Buncrana pier deaths: Derry family describes ‘unspeakable heartbreak’ after five drownings

Woman loses her mother, her youngest sister, her husband and two children

Relatives of the five victims of the drowning tragedy off the pier in Buncrana, Co Donegal, have spoken of their "unspeakable heartbreak".

Six people were in an Audi Q7 when it went into the water at Buncrana Pier at about 7.30pm on Sunday night.

A four-month old girl was rescued by a bystander who swam into the water after the SUV slipped off the pier. The child was handed out of a window as the car careered into the water.

One family member lost her partner, two of her children, her mother and her youngest sister.


Those who died were Sean McGrotty (49), his sons Mark (12), and Evan (8), his mother in law Ruth Daniels (59) and Ruth's daughter Jodie Lee Daniels (14).

Mr McGrotty lived with his wife Louise at St Eithne’s Park in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry.

Ruth Daniels lived with her daughter Jodie Lee and her four sons Joshua, who plays for Derry City, Kyle, Nathan and Jonathan at Ederowen.

Funeral services

Louise McGrotty had just returned from a family event in England on Sunday night to be told that her husband, her two sons, her mother and her sister had all died in the tragedy.

She as able to see her baby girl last night in Letterkenny General Hospital and she is said to be “doing well”.

On Monday, she was being comforted by family members and friends.

The funerals will take place on Thursday afternoon following a liturgy in the Holy Family parish church in Ballymagroarty.

Jim McGrotty, a brother of Sean, speaking on behalf of the family, said they had all been living a nightmare since news of the tragedy unfolded.

“I was sitting at home when news of the tragedy started to emerge last night. My thoughts were for the families of those involved. Little did I realise then that it was my own family members who had died.

“On behalf of the family we want to thank that brave man who swam into the sea and who saved the life of Louise’s baby Rionaghac-Ann, who is only four months old.

“We have since found out that Rionaghac-Ann’s father Sean handed his baby daughter out of the window of the car into the arms of the brave man who dived in to help just seconds before the car sank with the other family members inside it.

“There has been a constant stream of callers arriving at the house since word of who was involved has become public. On behalf of the family we wish to thank those people for their support and for their love at this very difficult time for us all.

“Words cannot express the enormity of the tragedy which has befallen our family. We are all numbed by this tragedy which has visited us. If there is anything good which has come out of it is the fact that baby Rionaghac-Ann has been saved.

"My brother Sean was the most devoted of fathers and husbands. He idolised his children. Mark was a first year student at St Joseph's Secondary School and Evan his brother, who had muscular dystrophy was a pupil at St Eithne's Primary School. The principals of the schools visited the family home this morning and it was clearly distressing for them. Jodie Lee's principal also called with us and she too was upset," said Mr McGrotty.

Phone call

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, who visited the family in Derry before travelling to Buncrana to pay tribute to the rescue services, said Louise McGrotty was in contact with her family by phone half an hour before the tragedy. Her family were telling her of the great day out they were having, he said.

Mr McGuinness said he visited the “heartbroken” home in Derry today. “It is a very, very sad house,” he said.

“Fortunately the baby has survived. That is the only thing the young woman has to hold onto,” he added.

“You never get over a situation where five members of a family lose their lives. Everybody is in a total state of shock, a total state of disbelief,” said Mr McGuinness.

“The young woman is completely devastated, as are all the family circle around her. All we can do, as much as is possible, is to throw our arms around the family and do everything we possibly can to help them through this terrible, terrible trauma.”

President Michael D Higgins also offered his sympathy to the extended McGrotty family. “I have heard with the greatest sadness of the terrible loss of life of a family in Buncrana. My heart goes out to the family and loved ones of Sean McGrotty, Mark McGrotty (12), Evan McGrotty( 8), Ruth Daniels and Jodie Lee Daniels (14). Sabina and I wish to express our deepest sympathies to the family and their communities. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.”

Among those who visited the family home at St Eithne’s Park was local parish priest Fr Paddy O’Kane.

“The grief of the family cannot be measured. There was a numbness and stillness in the family home and my thoughts and prayers and the thoughts and prayers of the entire parish and further afield are with those bereaved.

“Poor Louise has lost so many of her family in this tragedy and she only received the news when she returned from a family function in England yesterday evening. It’s just so hard to put into words what has happened to this family”, Fr O’Kane said.

Book of condolences

A book of condolences is to open in Derry in coming days.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Elisha McCallion said: “This is a terrible tragedy that has affected the entire community in Derry and Donegal and left all of us numb.

“Who would have thought that a family day out could have ended so tragically? It is beyond belief and I can’t put into words how sorry I am for the family and those affected by this dreadful accident.

NI First Minister Arlene Foster issued a joint statement with Mr McGuinness to express sorrow over the deaths.

“We share the widespread sorrow following the tragedy that claimed the lives of five people, including two children, in Co Donegal yesterday,” they said. “This tragedy resonates with us all. At times like this it is difficult to comprehend how life can be so altered in the matter of moments.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of those killed, those who tried to help and the responding emergency services. ”