Surfers and fishermen among Gaeltacht students’ rescuers, says principal

Students at Coláiste Mhachaire Rabhartaigh all back in class after dramatic sea rescue

The Irish Coastguard dispatched its Rescue 118 helicopter from Sligo. File Photograph: Irish Coast Guard / PA

The Irish Coastguard dispatched its Rescue 118 helicopter from Sligo. File Photograph: Irish Coast Guard / PA


All of the Gaelteacht students who were swept out to sea while swimming in Co Donegal on Tuesday returned to classes on Wednesday, while the principal was discharged from hospital and returned to his duties.

A major rescue operation was initiated at Magheroarty pier after the group, which comprised 15 people attending a local Irish college called Coláiste Mhachaire Rabhartaigh, were caught in a riptide and pulled away from the shore.

The alarm was raised when several members of the public made 999 calls after spotting the group swimming from the pier and becoming concerned that they seemed to be in difficulty.

An operation coordinated by the Malin Head Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre led to the rescue of the entire group, which was comprised of students and some staff attached to the college.

Almost a dozen people were transferred to hospital but all were discharged on Tuesday with the exception of college principal Rory MacManus who ingested some seawater into his lungs and was kept overnight.

Speaking after returning to his duties at the college on Wednesday, Mr MacManus (29) said he was now “fully fit” and commended the community for coming together to assist in the rescue.

“It was a sunny day so we brought them down to the beach to go swimming,” he told The Irish Times. “Everyone does it. It just so happened that a bad tide came in, and that was it. A few of the students got into trouble and the whole community came together.

“Everyone is happy that everyone is back safe and sound. I wasn’t caught in the riptide but deployed floating devices from the beach to help, and then entered the water myself to try and help bring a few of them out.

“I then got into trouble myself and was taken from the water by a fisherman. As soon as the boats came, people were just told to get in as quickly as possible and they were brought back to the pier. Another fella helped people to shore on a surfboard.

“There is a local cafe on the pier and they were able to give us hot tea and chocolate bars to get people’s energy up while we waiting for the emergency services.”

Antoine Ó Coileáin, chief executive of Gael Linn, which runs the college, travelled to Donegal on Wednesday. “The course is back full steam ahead from today,” he said.

“All of the students and everybody who was involved are back in college this morning and it’s business as usual, which is fantastic. The others were mainly brought in for assessment and observation. They were triaged and sent home.

“Several of them had visits from their parents last night. The parents were very pleased with how the whole thing was handled. The children were happier to stay [at the college] because they had such a bond.

“Summer college has that effect anyway, but this will certainly have strengthened that even further. We would rather it hadn’t happened but many of the students have been coming back for years so are the best of friends anyway.”

During the course of the rescue, the Irish Coastguard dispatched its Rescue 118 helicopter from Sligo. The Mulroy Coast Guard Unit and a HSE ambulance were also tasked with responding to the incident.

Malin Head Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre issued a general request for assistance to vessels in the area, which led to the Tory Ferry Queen of Aran and a number of local boats joining the rescue.