Drowning inquest told vessel struck rocks in gale


One of four men who lost their lives when a fishing vessel sank off Connemara three months ago only joined the boat at the last minute, an inquest heard yesterday.

Boatyard owner Mr Josie Connolly, of Leitir Ard, had told his wife, Ms Eileen Noonan Connolly,that he would not have fancied going out in the St Oliver on the night in question as the weather was bad.

However, Ms Noonan Connolly saw her husband boarding the 65-ft vessel later that evening, September 17th, and when she ran outside to ask him what he was doing, she was told by a local man that he was assisting the delivery of the vessel back to Rossaveal.

She said she spoke to her husband by phone and he asked her to pray that he did not get seasick.

Mr Connolly, who was in his 60s and from Glinsk, Connemara, lost his life along with fellow crew Mr John Dirrane, the vessel's skipper, Mr Michael Faherty and Mr Michael Mullin, when the St Oliver hit rocks off Duck Island (Inishlacken) south of Mweenish island off Carna, in a gale on September 17th.

Mr Dirrane and Mr Faherty, who were in their early 40s, were lifelong friends from the Aran islands and both had moved into Inverin. Mr Dirrane's wife, Una, had recently given birth to their fourth child. Mr Faherty's wife, Carmel, was expecting their first child when the accident occurred.

The inquest in Galway yesterday heard how the youngest of the four, Mr Mullin (18), of Moyard, had sent a mobile phone text message to a friend, Ms Regina King, before the sinking.

The message said: "Was in Carna all week. Just finished today. Steaming towards Rossaveal. Rough as f***. Our two computers f***ed. Hardly know where the f*** we're going. Will give you a buzz later."

The text message was sent at 8.23 p.m., but Ms King did not receive it until 9.30 p.m.

Mr Eamon Torpay, search and rescue operations manager with the Irish Coast Guard, said the emergency radio beacon (EPIRB) on the St Oliver was activated at 9.03 p.m, and the satellite signal was relayed from Scotland to the Irish emergency services.

The Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter from Shannon, the Naval Service patrol ship LE Ciara and lifeboats were despatched to the scene in very bad weather conditions.

The bodies of three of the men were recovered off the Carna coast within 24 hours of the sinking. Mr Dirrane's body was found near the wreckage a week later.

The skipper's widow, Ms Una Dirrane, told the inquest that her husband had been working on the St Oliver, which was in dry dock at Mr Connolly's yard at Leitir Ard, at the time.

On September 17th, he phoned her to say he was taking the vessel back to Rossaveal. She had phoned him at 8.30 p.m. that night, and he said the weather was "messy".

Mr Faherty's widow, Ms Carmel Faherty, said her husband had been in good form when she drove him to Carna. The weather appeared to be fine. She phoned him on the vessel at 8.10 p.m. that night, and he told her that Mr Josie Connolly was on board.

She asked him to call her when they reached Rossaveal, but at 10.30 p.m. Ms Dirrane had phoned her to say that the vessel was in trouble.

Medical evidence showed that three of the men died from asphyxia due to sea-water drowning, while Mr Dirrane died from fractures and other severe internal injuries which were consistent with having been in a boating accident.

The coroner for west Galway, Dr Ciarán McLoughlin, expressed his sympathy to all those who had been touched by the loss of the four men.