One of Ireland's brightest future hopes in world rowing, has tragically passed away six days after sustaining critical head injuries in a fall, only hours after winning a Bronze medal at the FISU World University Rowing Championships, in Poznan, Poland, writes David Raleigh.
Ailish Sheehan, 23, from Kildimo, Co Limerick, suffered catastrophic injuries after she slipped and fell while out celebrating her victory with friends.
Last Sunday, Ailish and the rest of her team mates, Rebecca Edwards, Annie Withers, and Gillian Cooper, came third for Great Britain in the Women's Senior Coxed Fours.
Having secured dual citizenship, the rising sports star had rowed for both Ireland and England.
“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,” Lee Boucher, the team British team manager in Poznan, said in a statement released this afternoon.
“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.”
Rowing Ireland is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Ailish Sheehan, RIP. Our thoughts with her family&friends https://t.co/j5BPx4O5wH— Rowing Ireland (@RowingIreland) September 9, 2016
Breaking down in tears, a close friend of the Sheehan family said: "Ailish has passed away. It's just terrible news. Everyone is in shock."
"She was so bubbly, so full of life, so determined. I can't comprehend it," they added.
Ms Sheehan's heartbroken family, including her parents John and Catherine, and sisters Niamh and Aine, had been keeping a vigil for the last six days at her hospital bedside.
Her father John, a native of Bandon, is well known in both athletic and GAA circles, having played minor hurling with Cork and St Mary’s in London in the 1970s.
He previously trained the Limerick senior hurling squad, and was a PE teacher at St Clements secondary school, Limerick. He is also a trainer with Kildimo GAA Club.
Ailish's mother Catherine is a nurse, and her sister Niamh recently qualified as a speech therapist.
It is the second major tragedy to strike the Sheehan family. John's brother Jim was left paralysed following a crash about 20 years ago, which claimed the life of his wife, who was a sister of Catherine.
Family friends and neighbours in Bruff - where the Sheehan's raised their three daughters and their nephew, Conor, said they were "devastated" as news of Ailish's passing filtered through from Poland.
The grief-stricken community had earlier in the week held a prayer and meditation service in the local park for Ailish's recovery, and on Wednesday, prayers were offered for her at the local church of St Peter and Paul.
"It's so sad. She had packed so much into her 23 years. She achieved so much. Most of us wouldn't reach the heights she did in our lifetime," a family friend said.
Another former neighbour described Ailish as been "full of life, and full of go and full of craic".
"She was a live wire, full of fun. She was always very competitive - she had to be, to get on the rowing team and to win her bronze medal," they added.
Ailish's devastated family are preparing arrangements to repatriate her body back home where she will be laid to rest in the coming days.
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Before news of the death emerged, Irish Olympian Sinead Jennings, a former teammate of Sheehan's, described the Limerick athlete as "one of the most talented I've ever met".
"It's absolutely awful,” she said earlier today.
“I rowed with Ailish in 2013 when we won the senior (pairs) together. She is an amazing girl. She was so bright and so full of life and energetic.
"I think we are all in shock - we can't believe it has happened really, at all. She had such a future ahead of her. She was such a lovely girl," she added.
"To think she was just out celebrating, as anybody would be, after winning the bronze medal. It just shouldn't have happened."
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport and TD for Co Limerick, Patrick O'Donovan, later expressed his condolences to the family of rower Ailish Sheehan.
Minister O'Donovan said: “On behalf of the people of Limerick and the sporting community I want to offer my condolences to the family and friends of rower Ailish Sheehan.
"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."
Via its website, the British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) stated it is "deeply saddened to report the death of Ailish Sheehan... a postgraduate student at Goldsmiths, University of London, representing the University of London Boat Club."
"BUCS, British Rowing and Rowing Ireland are providing support to her family during this difficult time and ask for their privacy to be respected."
Vince Mayne, Chief Executive Officer, BUCS, added: "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."
A BUCS source said Ms Sheehan was pronounced dead around lunchtime.
Sheehan, who rowed for both Ireland and Britain had been a member of St Michael's Rowing a Club, Limerick; Dooneen Athletics Club, Co Limerick, and most recently with University of London Rowing Club.
Club president Phil Roche described her as "an all-rounder" who excelled across all codes.
Prior to concentrating on her rowing career, Sheehan had established herself as a record-setting shot put and javelin thrower, and represented Ireland at International Schools level, and later at the Celtic Games in Scotland.
In 2011, she accepted an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame - one of the leading universities in the USA – home of the ‘Fighting Irish’.