Storm which took 45 lives remembered in Connemara and Mayo

Loss of diver Michael Heffernan during Mayo cave rescue 20 years ago also recalled

Irish Coast Guard volunteer Amy Lynott believes she owes her affinity with the Atlantic to her great-grandfather Thomas Lynott, who lost his life off the west coast 90 years ago.

Tom Lynott, a 50-year-old father of two, set out with a small fleet from north Mayo's Lacken pier near Killala to fish for herring in October 1927. Some of those who left survived, but 45 were lost along the Atlantic seaboard when a storm came in from the southeast. It was described by the Connacht Telegraph as "of surprising violence, though of short duration".

Fishermen from the Inishkea and Inishbofin islands, and Rossadilisk near Cleggan in Connemara, were also caught in what is now remembered as the "Cleggan Bay drownings".

Mr Lynott's body was never found. His name is inscribed along with colleagues Anthony Coolican (27), Anthony Goldrick (19), Michael Goldrick (31), Pat Goldrick (40), Tom Goldrick (40), Anthony Kearney (32), Martin Kearney (33) and Pat Kearney (43) at a monument at Lacken pier.

The impact of October 28th, 1927, the loss of diver Michael Heffernan during a north Mayo cave rescue 20 years ago, and the death of five Irish Coast Guard personnel within the past year were recalled in prayers and commemorative events in Connemara and north Mayo over the weekend.

Ms Lynott, an agricultural nutritionist and volunteer with the Irish Coast Guard unit at Ardmore, Co Waterford, was present along with her father Stephen, who is secretary of the Ballinskelligs Inshore Rescue community rescue boat in Co Kerry.

Very moving

“It is very moving for us both to be here,”she said, noting how few of the resources for search-and-rescue – or advances in weather forecasting – were in place when the Connemara and Mayo fishermen drowned.

The memorial, organised by her aunt Carol Whelan and a local committee, heard the sequence of events 90 years ago. Candles were placed in memory of the fishermen, while the Taoiseach's aide-de-camp Commdt Caroline Burke laid a wreath.

A bronze sculpture at Lacken marks the death of Mr Heffernan of Ballina’s Gráinne Uaile Sub-Aqua Club, who died during the rescue of a family of three from a cave after a currach capsized near Belderring in October 1997.

His close friend Cllr Michael Loftus, chairman of the diving club, recalled how Mr Heffernan had left his wife Annamarie, then pregnant with their second child, on the night of October 25th, 1997, and how he and his club mate, Josie Barrett, "did what was asked of them them" on one of the longest such rescues in living memory lasting over 17 hours.

Mr Loftus also paid tribute to the many others involved, who have since received bravery awards, including then Garda superintendent Tony McNamara, Garda divers Ciarán Doyle, Dave Mulhall, Sean O'Connell, Kieran Flynn and Joe Finnegan, Irish Coast Guard officers Seán McHale and Martin Kavanagh, fishermen Pat and Martin O'Donnell, and Irish Coast Guard pilot and crew Dave Courtney, John Manning and colleagues.

Harrowing swim

Garda Doyle, now a sergeant attached to the Garda College in Templemore, was awarded a Scott Medal for his harrowing swim that night. He hauled a rope for almost 1km, in pitch dark and with a heavy swell, to allow those still inside the cave to be rescued.

The O'Donnell brothers from Porturlin were standing by in two fishing boats, and Pat O'Donnell of the Bláth Ban, with his 12-year-old son Jonathan, spotted and recovered an exhausted Doyle and took the line in tow.

“I knew Michael Heffernan before, and Seán McHale’s daughter Eve is my god child,” Sgt Doyle said, reflecting on the close links formed after a long and terrifying night.

Wreaths for the lost from Lacken and for all those lost at sea were placed on the water by Killala Coast Guard and Garda Water Units.

Even as the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 118 helicopter was en route from Sligo to fly over in salute, a lost generation of fishermen were also being remembered in Inishbofin and in Claddaghduff, Connemara.