Coastal communities mourn boating deaths

A small coastal community is mourning the death of a professor of creative writing and poetry who drowned after his dinghy capsized off the south-west coast.

John O’Leary — who was born in Boston and later educated at Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity College Dublin — died after he and his son Christopher, decided to swim to shore after the boat capsized off Allihies, West Cork.

Prof O’Leary, 58, has been visiting professor of creative writing and Irish studies at Illinois Wesleyan University and Seattle University and has taught at numerous other universities in the US and Europe before turning to his hand to sheep farming in Allihies.

He had lived there for more than 30 years and was known for breeding Irish draught horses.

Prof O’Leary went sailing near the village on Monday afternoon, with one of his sons, Christopher, 18.

According to gardaí, their boat capsized at Cod’s Head at around 5.30pm.

The father and son clung on to the upturned dinghy for nearly four hours in the hope of being spotted and rescued. However, as it started to get dark, they decided to swim for shore.

Christopher made it, but his father didn’t.

Prof O’Leary’s body was spotted at 1.30am yesterday, by a coastguard helicopter. It was later retrieved by the Castletownbere lifeboat.

Prof O’Leary also had a daughter Róisín, and another son Ralph.

A year ago, Prof O’Leary and some friends had to be airlifted from nearly the same spot after they got into difficulties in a boat.

A postmortem was carried out on his body yesterday at Cork University Hospital.

John Terry O’Sullivan, who owns the supermarket in Allihies, said he knew Prof O’Leary very well.

“He had two sons he was looking after for the last couple of years. He was a very nice fella and a brilliant poet. He’s definitely a big loss to the area.”

County councillor Jerry Sullivan said Mr O’Leary’s death had cast great sadness over Allihies and the Beara peninsula. “I’d like to extend my sympathies to Mr O’Leary’s family at this very sad time.”

Prof O’Leary’s poetry was published widely in the US. His book of 77 sonnets, Salt, won a Pushcart Prize in 2000.


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