Bereaved mother warns of river dangers

The heartbroken mother of a young man who was among 12 people to drown in a 10-day period during last summer’s heatwave has pleaded with young people to stay away from rivers.

Bereaved mother warns of river dangers

“It’s every mother’s nightmare,” Mary O’Driscoll said. “For God’s sake, stay away from rivers, especially in the hot weather, it draws boys on. I don’t want any family to go through this — not in a million years.

“I hope no one will ever experience what we’re going through.

“My mind is racing, my heart is dead, and my stomach is raw. I’m actually a dead person myself.”

Ms O’Driscoll was speaking after Cork City coroner, Dr Myra Cullinane, returned a verdict of misadventure in relation to the death of her son, Michael, last June.

Michael, aged 22, with an address in Bishopstown, Cork, drowned on June 10, 2013, after getting into difficulty while swimming after midnight in the river Lee near Inniscarra cemetery.

He was among of group of cousins and friends who had been drinking on the river bank in glorious weather.

The inquest into his death heard yesterday how Ms O’Driscoll had concerns when she dropped him there at around 8pm and saw people had been drinking alcohol and swimming.

“I told them not to be hanging around the river bank in case something would happen to them,” she said.

Some of them told Ms O’Driscoll’s husband they planned to leave soon and she and her husband returned home.

But Robert, Noreen, Christopher, Patrick, Daniel, James, and Bill O’Driscoll were among those who stayed drinking with Michael on the river bank.

There was conflicting evidence in statements from Christopher and Bill — the only two witnesses who co-operated with the Garda investigation. No witnesses attended the inquest.

Garda Adrian Murphy said they established that Michael was among a group of four men who tried, at around 12.30am, to swim about 30m to the opposite river bank where a swing had been set up.

Christopher said in his statement that he told the men to keep out of the water and saw some of them make it across and get out for a rest before swimming back.

But he said Michael didn’t rest and got into difficulty as he swam back.

In his statement, Bill said a member of the group had tried to swim across earlier and nearly drowned.

He said he was standing on the river drinking a can of beer after midnight when Michael, Bobby, and Patrick began to swim across. “We were only messing. We were drunk and only doing it for the craic,” he said.

He said the three men made it across the river and mocked him for not trying.

“I swam across and the three lads went to swim back. I was wrecked and hung on to the swing.

“Then I heard shouts that one of the lads was drowning. I tried to hang on to him with my legs but I was too weak to hang on to him. I was nearly drowning myself. Only for the branch, I was gone myself.

“I can’t get that night out of my head. It started out as a laugh and a joke. I’m so sorry for his mother, father, brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Nothing like this was meant to happen.”

The alarm was raised at 12.42am and an ambulance and fire crews from Ballincollig and Cork City arrived at the scene with minutes.

Garda Murphy said people on the river bank were very drunk and aggressive during the search and recovery operation. “They gave no information to gardaí. None was willing or capable of providing more information,” he said.

“Our role on the night became managing a public order incident. We had to call for back-up from several stations.”

Firefighter Ruben O’Leary said they began searching a 70m stretch of the river and recovered Michael’s body from the riverbed within 45-minutes, close to where he was last seen.

Paramedic John Batt said the casualty was in cardiac arrest as they began CPR in the back of the ambulance.

The inquest was told that some of the drunken group became even more aggressive and began banging on the ambulance as Mr Batt and Mr O’Leary performed CPR inside the ambulance for up to 40-minutes in a desperate bid to revive Michael.

But Mr Batt said he showed no signs of recovery. He was rushed to Cork University Hospital where Dr Joe Kelly pronounced death just before 2.30am.

Gardaí had to deal with more public order incidents at the hospital and a number of arrests were made.

An autopsy found that Michael had three times the legal drink driving limit of alcohol in his blood and a small amount of diazepam in his system, which combined, would have affected his responses and reflexes. The cause of death was drowning.

Ms O’Driscoll told the coroner her son was a strong swimmer. But speaking outside afterwards, she warned young people to exercise extreme caution near rivers or beaches.

She said her family has erected a small religious monument in Michael’s memory near the Inniscarra cemetery.

“I hope when people see if, they will be warned not to go in the water,” she said.

Water wise

Safety warnings have been issued for people considering outdoors activities this bank holiday weekend.

Irish Water Safety and the Irish Coast Guard both urged people to be safety conscious when engaged in water sports or coastal and cliff activities.

Coast Guard units will be patrolling rivers, lakes, waterways and coastlines issuing safety advice and information.

Coast Guard manager Declan Geoghegan, said with warm weather predicted, they expect more people to enjoy water and coastline activities.

“We ask people to heed the advice and, if you see someone in difficulty dial 112/999 and ask for the Coast Guard,” he said.

Irish Water Safety said it saw an unprecedented spike in the number of drownings between June and August last year — the highest number in 40 years. An average of 140 people drown in Ireland every year, with 12 drownings during a 10-day period last June.

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