Drowning witness ‘felt so helpless’

A HOTELIER who witnessed Sunday’s tragic events spoke yesterday of feeling helpless as she watched the two men being swept away.

Anne O’Donovan, who runs the Owenahincha Hotel just across the road from the beach, said she felt compelled to help the families of Peter O’Keeffe and Jonathan Herlihy.

The community and several local businesses have also rallied to help.

“I was devastated watching. I felt so helpless,” said Ms O’Donovan.

She has reopened her hotel, which closed for the season on Friday, to the army of volunteers who have turned up to help in the recovery operation.

“I might have been helpless on the beach but I’m not going to be helpless now,” she said.

She also spoke of how she helped the couple whose lives were saved after they were washed ashore.

“We brought them back to the hotel and lit the fire for them,” she said of the couple, a British man who had been living in Bantry for some time and a woman from Kilkenny, both in their 20s.

“My heart went out to them. I just felt so sorry for them. She was shaking, and in shock. He didn’t speak. I think he was in shock too. I thought he should have gone to hospital but he didn’t want to.”

Ms O’Donovan said the families of the missing men shouted at the couple for going into the water in such treacherous conditions.

Emotions were running high and I suppose it was understandable, she said.

“They made a stupid mistake going in. But they are going to have to live with that for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Reports that the couple wrote a letter to the families of the missing men were rubbished yesterday. It is understood there has been no contact between them and the O’Keeffe and Herlihy families.

The couple left the area on Monday. Their names and whereabouts were still unknown last night.

Meanwhile, the dining room and ballroom of the Owenahincha Hotel have become the nerve centre for the army of volunteers.

Among the volunteers were dozens of Mr Herlihy’s shocked college friends. His college soccer team, which was touring the US, has cut short its trip.

PC Carey Pettit-Mee, a British police officer, also volunteered yesterday to lead search parties along the cliffs.

The hotel is also being used by the gardaí, coastguard and civil defence co-ordinators for daily evening briefings.

Ms O’Donovan has been joined by a small army of people from all over Cork who are helping out.

They spend their day in the hotel kitchen preparing hundreds of sandwiches, rolls, and dozens of pots of soup, tea and coffee.

Many local businesses touched by Sunday’s tragedy have also lent support.

Clona Dairies in Clonakilty have donated gallons of milk, Supervalu stores in Clonakilty and Glanmire have donated sandwiches and Declan O’Donovan of Brennan’s Bakery in Castlehaven donated dozens of loaves of bread yesterday.

Local people have baked cakes and scones for the search teams.

Superintendent Pat Maher praised the community support.

Claire Browne from Glanmire, who has a holiday home nearby, also saw the two men being swept away. She said the support from the local community has been overwhelming.

“We’ve had phone calls from people offering to help out, to wash dishes, make sandwiches, do anything,” she said.

Ms O’Donovan appealed last night for people to donate fresh fruit, chocolate and more bread to help feed people searching for the remaining body.

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