Nuns’ inquest told Inch needs warning signs

Sr Frances Murphy, Sr Margaret Ryan and Sr Mary Deane of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Tralee Courthouse yesterday.

Two Presentation sisters died in a double drowning incident after going for a swim at Inch Strand, in Co Kerry on a fine summer’s evening in a calm sea, the inquest into their death was told yesterday.

Srs Imelda Carew, 67, of Wainsfort Drive, Terrenure, Dublin and Paula Buckley, 70, of Kilmahuddrick Walk, Clondalkin, Dublin had been swimming out of their depth but did not seem to be in any difficulty, just 10 minutes before lifeguards ran to pull them from the water, a surfer who had been alongside them said.

However the inquest in Tralee also heard how locals had long known of dangerous currents which swept people out to sea straight from the beach at Inch; that there was no signs warning visitors of this and the jury asked that signage be erected.

The sisters were holidaying at Inch with their friend Sr Mary Hanrahan on August 14, 2014. All three went to the beach at around 6.30pm and Srs Carew and Buckley got into the water.

In her statement, read to her by Sgt Gary Carroll, Sr Mary Hanrahan said she watched her friends get into the water but within minutes lost sight of them. She became concerned “as they were not strong swimmers”.

She alerted a lifeguard who tried to reassure her that the sea was calm. He and a colleague ran to the shore.

Sr Imelda Carew
Sr Imelda Carew

Both women were brought ashore unconscious very quickly and a number of people including surfers, lifeguards and a nurse holidaying in the area attempted CPR. A defibrillator was brought from Annascaul within 15 minutes and an ambulance arrived within 25 minutes. Gardaí arrived from Dingle and a helicopter from Shannon and transferred the sisters to Kerry General Hospital in Tralee. Both were pronounced dead there shortly after 9pm.

Witness Ciarán Kelliher went surfing to catch the tide at Inch at around 6.30pm. The tide was almost in. He saw two elderly women swimming and saluted them.

“They were out of their depth but comfortable,” Mr Kelliher said in his deposition, read to him by Sgt Carroll.

Ten minutes later he saw lifeguards running into the sea. He pulled one of the ladies onto his surfboard to bring her ashore. Lifeguards towed the other lady.

Evidence from gardaí and others was that it was a nice evening “and no big swell”. State pathologist Dr Margot Bolster, who carried out the autopsy on the nuns, said there was no evidence of significant disease; there had been no alcohol or drugs and and the cause of death was acute cardiorespiratory failure due to drowning.

The jury intervened then to tell the packed inquest of a concern by a member of the public and of long held local concerns about currents and the lack of signageto alert swimmers.

Jury member Mick O’Connell, who lives in the area, addressed the inquest from the jury bench. He said ten to 12 people had drowned at Inch when there had been no wave and no wind.

“But there’s a current there. A dangerous current straight out from the entrance to the beach. This is well known locally,”Mr O’Connell said.

SrPaula Buckley
Sr Paula Buckley

Some 25 years ago a wave came in and snatched a surfer straight from the beach and several decades ago a horse and cart had been swept out from the beach.

“I went there today and there is no sign about any dangerous current,” Mr O’Connell said.

He also asked the signage be visible, at eye level.

The jury brought in a verdict of accidental death due to drowning in the case of both sisters, but called for signage “that can be visible” warning of currents be erected.

Coroner Helen Lucey recorded in the case of each lady that death occurred at Kerry General Hosptial and was due to drowning and that Kerry County Council has been asked to erect “visible signage that there are currents” in the area.

Ms Lucey said she recalled it had been a very fine summer’s evening and the event had been particularly traumatic for Sr Mary Hanrahan who was with her friends.

“Everything that could be done was done,” the coroner said.

Afterwards, in a statement issued on behalf of Presentation Sisters Union, Srs Imelda Carew and Paula Buckley were described as “two extraordinary women whose lives ended tragically and unexpectedly in August 2014”.


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