Adults drowning in baths ‘very rare’, says Irish Water Safety

In the UK, just under 4% of all accidental drownings last year occurred in a bath

Occurrences of adults drowning in bathtubs are "very, very rare", according to Irish Water Safety chief executive John Leech.

Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan drowned in the bath of a London hotel room last January while intoxicated with alcohol, an inquest concluded on Thursday.

Official statistics from the UK show 255 people died in accidental drownings there last year, of which 10 occurred in a bath, which is just under 4 per cent.

Speaking to The Irish Times after the verdict, Mr Leech extended his "deepest condolences" to Ms O'Riordan's family, but said taking a bath after consuming alcohol was not a high risk activity.



“We would average probably one death a year in a bath but it’s normally a child, or sometimes it can even be a large bucket or basin,” he said. “Parents are distracted by telephones or the doorbell rings, and the child is left in the bath on their own.

“It’s very, very rare for an adult to drown in a bath. Sometimes where it has happened it’s normally the result of a stroke or a heart attack where the person slips in then and drowns. I’m here 17 years and in my experience there have been very few cases.

“I’ve only come across one alcohol-related case in that time. It’s a very unusual type of drowning. It’s sad and tragic, and on behalf of all our members we extend our deepest condolences to the family.”


Mr Leech did, however, add that the perception that an intoxicated individual will be awoken by the shock or a bodily reflex is misguided. “No,” he said. “Drowning is silent, don’t forget. People who are drowning are not able to use their voice or call for help. I know in movies they do, but in reality they can’t. It’s a physical impossibility.”

To Mr Leech's knowledge, one of the only other Irish case s of someone drowning in a bath due to intoxication was 54-year-old Catherine Farrelly from Drumcondra, Dublin 9, who died in 2015 as she soaked with her book.

A postmortem report concluded the cause of death was drowning, with elevated blood alcohol level as a contributory factor.

There was no evidence of a heart attack or stroke or sudden collapse, Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane said at her inquest. Ms Farrelly had a blood alcohol level of 329 mg per cent, which is "quite high but not a lethal level" according to Dr Cullinane.

“It’s impossible to know if she had a seizure as we cannot prove that at postmortem. Either falling asleep and sliding down or having a turn, we cannot prove either,” Dr Cullinane said, returning a verdict of death by misadventure.

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter