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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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Evan's last words to his mother: 'I miss you so much. I'm going to give you the biggest, tightest hug'

Members of the Daniels and McGrotty families drowned in a tragic accident on Sunday.

Updated 2.10pm

family The Daniels and McGrotty family Source: Garda Press Office

“WE ARE PLUNGED in grief. Even the heavens are crying. Five beautiful people have been taken tragically from our midst.”

The opening words of Fr Patrick O’Kane as he welcomed mourners to the Holy Family Church in Derry this afternoon pointed to people from all over the world uniting in grief for Ruth Daniels, Jodie Lee Daniels (14), Sean McGrotty, Mark McGrotty (12) and Evan McGrotty (8).

The victims of Sunday’s tragedy in Buncrana, the five are being laid to rest today following a funeral service attended by grieving family members and friends.

Their remains were taken from the Daniels and McGrotty family home in St Eithne’s Park in Derry this afternoon.

Fr O’Kane spoke directly to each of the survivors, including Louise James – wife of Seán, mother to Mark and Evan, daughter of Ruth and sister to Jodie-Lee – who was away in England for the weekend when the accident happened. 

“Noel, you have lost a son,” the priest began.

“Shannon and Patrick, you have lost a dad.

“Arthur, your two grandchildren. Mary, your nephew.

“Jim, Marie, Tony, Frank, Dermot, you have lost your brother.

“Nathan, Jonathan, Kyle and Joshua you have lost your mother and your sister.

But you Louise, you are most bereft of all for you have lost your family and our hearts go out to you especially. I know there are no words I can say here to express the depth of your heartbreak, no words to take away your pain or alleviate your sorrow.

family - 1 Mark and Evan Source: Garda Press Office

Symbols of the family’s lives were brought to the altar by school friends of Evan, Mark and Jodie Lee after Louise shared memories of her family with the congregation.

In his homily, Fr O’Kane recalled the phone call she made to him on Monday morning.

“When the news broke on Sunday evening that a terrible accident had happened on Buncrana pier my prayers for the dead and bereaved included a prayer for the priest who would have to face the family and at the funeral try to make sense of this tragedy. Little did I think I was praying for myself.

“Then at 7 o’clock on Monday morning I got a call: It’s Louise James here, Fr Paddy,’ she said, ‘That was my husband, my children, my mother, my sister that died yesterday evening.’

“Stunned, I later made my way to her home where the grief was palpable. Grown men stood, red eyed, in silence. Words could not come to my lips to put any shape on what I felt inside. A reverend silence felt more appropriate as  I gripped her hand. As I kissed her cheek, I tasted the salt of her tears. ‘I am so, so sorry’ was all I could muster, and  I hoped it was enough.”

He spoke of breaking down in tears on seeing the five coffins in the funeral home on Tuesday morning.

“And yet there is one little sliver of light, one ray of hope bravely breaking through the dark clouds and it is this-little Rioghnach Ann has been saved,” he continued.

The priest praised Davitt Walsh, the man who saved the four-month-old baby, calling him a hero.

Davitt, today we salute you as our hero. We had a meeting in our Parochial house on Tuesday when Louise and her family met you to thank you for all you did and also your girlfriend Stephanie Knox for her quick thinking as she warmed the baby’s little blue body back to life.

“Louise thanked you both sincerely from the bottom of her heart and for trying to save the lives of her sons. ‘Don’t blame yourself that you did not do more – we are so grateful for what you did,’ she says. Davitt once played senior football and he looks a fit man, all of which stood to him in his ordeal. ‘It could easily have been seven deaths, not five,’ Louise added, before passing the baby to Davitt to hold.

She opened her beautiful blue eyes, smiled up at him and had a big yawn.

“As Louise says to me again and again, ‘She is my only reason to go on living’. I baptised her at this font on 23 January in the company of her parents Louise and Sean, her godparents Joshua and Gemma and her extended family.

“The day before I paid them a visit at St. Eithne’s Park where they made me welcome and asked me to bless their beautiful little family home. While I was there I  was told that  little Evan had muscular dystrophy and how Louise has so far raised £16,000 for that charity including a tandem parachute jump from 14,000 feet.

“Two weeks ago we were gathered as a family again when he made his First Confession – that same little Evan who, when his mother phoned him at five to seven on Sunday evening as they sat on the Pier to watch the sunset, said:

Mammy I miss you so much.  I am going to give you the biggest, tightest hug you ever got, when I see you again.

Fr O’Kane also mentioned the late baby Joshua, born to Louise who lived for just 17 hours.

“Louise, your faith is strong as I hear you say how your sons Mark and Evan, partner Sean, mother Ruth and Jody-Lee your only sister, are now reunited in heaven with your little baby Joshua who lived for only 17 hours. You are just going to have to wait a little longer until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan.”

Tributes

Tributes to the boys and Jodie Lee were given by their school principals, while Jim McGrotty spoke about his brother and Joshua Daniels paid tribute to his mother Ruth.

Damien Hartigan of St Joseph’s School spoke of Evan and Mark as bright, bubbly children who loved school.

“Evan was a beautiful, bubbly young boy with a huge personality. He added something to every life that he touched.”

He said that he was “truly loved in returned”. He told how one day Evan, deemed too sick to attend school by his mother Louise, charged after her still wearing his pyjamas, asking why Mark was allowed attend school and he wasn’t.

“He dreaded the thought of missing out on his friends for one day.”

Mark, he said, was a “pleasure” to teach.

“Mark was a quiet, hard-working pupil who was eager to please and always did his best.”

Hartigan added that Mark’s mother had given him a history project he had “poured his heart and soul into achieving an A grade” on.

“She knew that’s exactly what Mark would have wanted.”

Marie Lindsay of St Mary’s College said that Jodie Lee Daniels was a “beautiful girl with an inner beauty”.

“That beautiful girl packed a lifetime of love into 14 short years.”

She said that Jodie Lee would be remembered for her laugh, her sense of fun and her friendship, recalling how the teenager had assured classmates that they would be ok when receiving injections recently.

Jim McGrotty spoke of his brother Sean’s determination, about how he finished everything he put his mind to and about his love for his children.

“Sean made many friends easily. He loved the craic and the bit of divilment. That those friends have stayed with Sean until this day is a testament to him.”

Josh Daniels said that it had been his privilege to have been raised by his mother Ruth, whom he called a “perfect person”.

“Growing up with someone who had the traits she had was an absolute gift to me and anyone who knew her.

“Everything we achieve will be for her and everything I become will be because of her.”

Unspeakable tragedy

The Audi Q7 jeep they had been travelling in entered the water at around 7.30pm on Sunday evening.

A baby girl was passed out of the window of the jeep and handed to Davitt Walsh, a bystander who had jumped into the water when he saw what was happening.

It is understood that she is doing “very well” in hospital. 

The family’s remains were brought home to their home in Derry on Tuesday.

Books of condolences had been open in Buncrana, Co Donegal and Derry over the past two days.

With Paul Hosford in Derry and Sinéad O’Carroll

Read: “I don’t know how I’m going to cope with it”: Witness describes horror of Buncrana pier tragedy

Also: Family who died in Buncrana tragedy brought home to Derry

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