A father-of-three who drowned after a canoe capsized would have been leading a search and rescue if it had been someone else, those who knew him have said.
Bill Topham, an electrician and the warden at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Kenmare, Co Kerry, died after the 17ft (5.2m) boat overturned a few hundred yards from shore yesterday.
A friend who had joined him for a duck shoot on islands on Kenmare Bay managed to swim to shore where he was rescued.
Mr Topham’s body was recovered at about 9.45am this morning by local divers after hundreds of local people turned out in stormy conditions in the search and rescue efforts for the popular local man.
Rev Michael Cavanagh of St Patrick’s said widow Geraldine and the family were hugely grateful to the professionalism of the Irish Coast Guard and all those who responded to the tragedy.
“Bill was something special in this community,” he said.
“Everybody knew Bill and Bill knew everybody. He was a great guy. People have massive respect for him.
“At 7am this morning there were 240 people there in the community hall waiting to go out and search. It’s just amazing.
“Bill Topham and Kenmare, they sort of almost defined each other – willing to help everybody, always there and ready.
“If it had been somebody else Bill Topham would have been the first person there this morning to help in the search.”
The cleric paid tribute to his dedication in maintaining the church buildings and grounds.
Mr Topham’s family have had connections with the Church of Ireland in the village dating back to 1848.
He also helped with the local Men’s Sheds which was set up at St Patrick’s and he also helped fund raise for Mellon Educate and took several trips to South Africa when it was focused on building houses in townships.
“If you needed something doing then he was one of those people who could turn his hand to anything,” Rev Cavanagh said.
The tragedy occurred after the men tried to make their way from Templenoe pier, a few miles from Kenmare village, to a duck shoot on islands a few hundred yards offshore.
Mr Topham’s body was found by divers in the water off Templenoe, not far from where the capsized canoe was discovered on Sunday.
The Irish Coast Guard co-ordinated the search operation with the Castletownbere Coast Guard unit and Derrynane inshore rescue and the Shannon Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 115 and local clubs all involved.