Buncrana tragedy: A grieving relative returns to the scene

Arthur James lost two of his grandchildren, a daughter and his ex-wife in the drowning

The victims of the Buncrana pier tragedy have been returned home. The funeral takes place at the Church of the Holy Family in Ballymagroarty on March 24th.


Arthur James stood on Buncrana pier yesterday and looked down at the place where two of his grandchildren, one of his daughters and his former wife all lost their lives.

The rims of his eyes were glistening red from all that he has been through since Sunday – and all that he will go through today and for a long time hence.

This afternoon at the Church of the Holy Family in Derry’s Ballymagroarty, he and members of the Daniels and McGrotty families will say goodbye to the five who drowned in freakish circumstances on Sunday evening: Seán McGrotty (49); Seán’s two sons (Arthur’s grandchildren), Mark (12) and Evan (8); Seán’s sister-in-law (Arthur’s daughter) Jodie-Lee (14); and the boys’ grandmother, Ruth Daniels (Arthur’s former wife).

Mark and Evan’s mother, Louise, was not in the car at the time of the tragedy. She and baby Rionaghac-Ann, rescued from the sinking vehicle, are all that remains of her and Seán’s family.

Arthur went to the pier yesterday afternoon to see for himself the place where Seán’s car had slid down the slippery, algae-covered, Buncrana to Rathmullan ferry slipway at the side of Buncrana pier.

With him were two of his and Ruth’s other sons, Nathan and Jonathan, and a nephew, Dermot Doherty.

Open gate

“Do you work here,” Arthur asked. I told him I didn’t, that I was a reporter.

“Why is this open?” he asked. It was more of an accusation than a question posed in expectation of any meaningful answer.

One of his sons went over and examined the padlock holding the gate’s bolt in place.

“No one’s been near this in a long time,” said the young man.

“Why isn’t it closed?” asked Arthur again.

He pointed to a paragraph in a newspaper story quoting Donegal County Council saying the circumstances of the accident would be looked into, including the open gate, and that if anything needed to be done, it would be done.

“What the f*** do they need to investigate,” he asked. “It should be closed now.”

Arthur was at home in Manchester when his phone rang at about 11.30pm on Sunday.

It was then that he was given the news and he came over as fast as he could.

He has since then been living a bewildering nightmare of loss, grief and, yesterday, a certain amount of questioning bordering on anger.

Remaining evidence After surveying the scene for perhaps 20 minutes, he and his surviving sons and nephew got back into their car and left for Derry, the car’s skid marks and clusters of flowers people have been leaving on the pier the remaining evidence of what had happened.

As they left, three other men walked on to the slipway, one of them an official with Donegal Fire Brigade.

One of the others was Joe McHugh, a local TD and Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs.

Very obviously upset, Mr McHugh spoke, to no one in particular it seemed, about the choices that get forced on a person – the choice to leave a sinking vehicle, having handed a baby to a rescuerer, or go back inside as it goes under.

Seán McGrotty made his choice on Sunday evening.

Like dozens of other people who have gone to Buncrana pier, Mr McHugh stared at the scene and was lost for words.