Limerick rower Ailish Sheehan (23) dies in Poznan

Many tributes paid after Irish woman’s life-support switched off following injury in fall

Limerick rower Ailish Sheehan (23), who was injured in a fall in the hours after competing at the World University Championships in Poland, has died.

Her parents John and Catherine, and sisters Niamh and Áine, had been at her bedside at the hospital in Poznan. The extent of her injuries was such that life-support was turned off today.

The incident happened on Sunday evening while Ms Sheehan was celebrating after taking a bronze medal with the British women's four in Poznan. BUCS (the British university rowing society), British Rowing and Rowing Ireland have been giving assistance to the family.

Ms Sheehan was studying for her masters degree in Design and Environment at the University of London, and rowed for the college. She had won Irish championships as a junior and senior oarswoman for St Michael’s in Limerick and represented Ireland at the World Under-23 Championships in 2013.


Ms Sheehan was from Kildimo, Co Limerick, and was a former member of St Michael's Rowing Club and Dooneen Athletic Club.

Notre Dame

She graduated from Notre Dame University, in Indiana, where she had been on a rowing scholarship, and was doing a Masters Degree in University of London at the time of her death. She had qualified for the British system and was chosen to represent the country in Poznan.

Responding to the development, President Michael D Higgins stated on Friday evening: "It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the death of Ailish Sheehan.

“A talented rower and student of design, her loss will be felt acutely by her teammates and colleagues. This is a cruel blow for all those who were so were impressed by her rowing success.

“As President of Ireland, I would like to extend my sympathy to her family, colleagues and friends.”

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport Patrick O’Donovan also expressed his condolences to the family: “The loss of any life is a time of great sadness but when a person of such great promise and so young passes it is a tragedy.

“My thoughts and prayers are with her family, friends and the rowing community during this difficult time.

‘Great sadness’

Lee Boucher, the team British team manager in Poznan, released this statement at 3pm on Friday: “It is with great sadness that I have to report that within the last hour our teammate Ailish has passed away in hospital in Poznan surrounded by her family. Our thoughts at this time are with all of her family and friends.

“Like her performances on the water, Ailish gave everything right until the very end but unfortunately she was unable to win this battle. Ailish’s family take comfort in knowing that she didn’t suffer and that she was happy in her final moments.”

Mr Boucher, who is from Northern Ireland, added: "I know that this will hit you all hard but Ailish would want us all to rally together to support one another at this tragic time. Please do not hesitate to contact me at any point."

Vince Mayne, BUCS chief executive, said the death was deeply saddening.

“BUCS, British Rowing and Rowing Ireland are providing support to her family during this difficult time and ask for their privacy to be respected.

“On behalf of everyone at BUCS, I wish to extend our condolences to the family and friends of Ailish and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”

Rowing Ireland also extended condolences to Ms Sheehan’s family and friends. “Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time,” the organisation said.

Ms Sheehan had taken Irish titles and was regarded as having an Olympic and international future in the sport.

Phil Gray, the University of London's chief rowing coach, said everyone connected to rowing was devastated.

‘Top oarswoman’

“Not only was Ailish a top oarswoman with a significant future in the international side of the sport but she also lit up the club with her humour and laughter,” he said.

“She was a great example to younger members and starting next year without her is hard to imagine at the moment, especially as she had been elected vice-captain. But our main thoughts are with Ailish’s family who obviously meant so much to her.”

Zoe Parish, chair of the University of London Boat Club Trust, said: "We are all shocked at this appalling news and are quite sure the whole rowing community will feel the same."

A book of remembrance is to be opened by the university to record memories of the Irish woman.

James Richards, the college's men's captain, described his fellow athlete as exceptional.

“She was mentally one of the strongest people I knew in all aspects of life,” he said.

“She had a relentless infectious energy that made everyone better themselves. She was inspirational. UL [University of London] will truly miss her. My thoughts and those of UL go out to her sisters and her parents.”

‘Gutsy and remarkable’

Lottie Bruce, the women's captain, said: "Ailish was the most gutsy and remarkable girl I had ever had the pleasure of meeting. Her strength shone through but she kept humble about her successes. A true role model for all at UL. I am so proud to call her my teammate and friend.

“She will be missed. The stars are shining bright for you Ailish.”

Ms Sheehan joined University of London at the start of the 2015/16 academic year after rowing with Notre Dame’s first Varsity eight.

She had won at the British Universities Championship in the women’s coxed four and also in the senior fours at Henley women’s regatta.

Additional reporting: Press Association

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman

Liam Gorman is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in rowing