Diving tragedy brothers: 'They were grand, ordinary fellas'

Tributes were paid today to Laois brothers Fergus and Philip Brophy, who drowned in a diving incident at a quarry, in Co Tipperary, Sunday.
Diving tragedy brothers: 'They were grand, ordinary fellas'
The quarry in Portroe, Co Tipperary where Portroe dive club train was cordoned off on Sunday after an incident involving two divers who died there. Picture: Press 22
The quarry in Portroe, Co Tipperary where Portroe dive club train was cordoned off on Sunday after an incident involving two divers who died there. Picture: Press 22

Tributes were paid today to Laois brothers Fergus and Philip Brophy, who drowned in a

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Fr Tom Dooley, parish priest, Portarlington, where the siblings grew up, said the community was in shock as locals tried to come to terms with the double drowning at Portroe Quarry.

Fergus, 43, married to Michelle in Ballybrittas, and his younger brother Philip, 34, who lived at the family home in Lough, Portarlington, had set off for Portroe early Sunday morning to try out a new piece of diving equipment at the quarry, Fr Dooley explained.

It is understood the two men travelled to Portroe Dive Centre, which is located at the quarry, to try out a new underwater scooter, however both drowned after one tried to help the other after they got into difficulty in the 40m deep water.

The two siblings, who each worked as an engineer for Vodafone, were frequent visitors to Portroe Quarry where divers from all over the country and beyond come to train and hone their diving skills, as well as explore a number of sunken wrecks.

A major emergency operation swung into play at the quarry yesterday afternoon involving search and rescue groups, Killaloe Coast Guard, gardaí, and paramedics.

The Shannon-Airport based Coast Guard Rescue Helicopter was tasked to the scene but was stood down mid-journey after both men were pronounced dead at the scene.

Efforts by rescue personnel to revive the brothers were unsuccessful and their bodies were transferred to University Hospital Limerick for post mortems.

“They left yesterday morning at 8.30am, one would have picked up the other. They were experienced divers, it was their big passion,” Fr Dooley explained.

They had engaged in “deep sea diving” in destinations across the world, he added.

“I know the family well, they’re from Lough, Portarlington. Fergus is married to Michelle and they live in Ballybrittas in a new housing estate, and Philip lived with his parents Seamus and Dinah in Lough.” The two men are also survived by two brothers and a sister.

“They were grand, ordinary fellas. Both of them worked with Vodafone as engineers, and they had an interest in deep sea diving, which is strange for this part of the world, but they would have been experienced divers, and they dived around the world in different places,” said Fr Dooley.

He offered that he accompanied gardaí on the short grim journey to the men’s parents home, to deliver the heartbreaking news yesterday afternoon.

“I was up with the family with the gardaí, breaking the news to them. They’re devastated, unbelievable, they couldn't hardly believe it.

“They don't really know what happened. I suppose they are waiting on the gardaí. I know they had some sort of new machine that they were testing. One got into difficulty and the other tried to save them and both of them (died).

“People know them very well. They're of a farming background for generations and generations. We will pray for them at Mass. We are waiting for the funerals now, following the postmortems.”

Gardai are treating the double drowning as

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A spokesman for the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said it was “looking into the circumstances” of the tragedy, but added that it had not launched an investigation as of yet.

Post mortems were being carried out on the bodies at University Hospital Limerick before their remains were to be handed over to their family for burial.

“All I can do is pass on my sympathy and support to the family. It’s very, very, very sad for them,” Fr Dooley said.

Online messages of sympathy for the men’s family poured in from members of the diving community around the country, including members from the University of Limerick Sub Aqua Club.

A social media post from the group read: “It is with great sadness that our club has learnt of the tragic deaths of two divers in Portroe Quarry, brothers Fergus and Philip Brophy. We offer our sincerest condolences at this sad time; our hearts go out to their family and loved ones. May they Rest In Peace.”

Portroe Dive Centre had opened last weekend after a four-month lockdown due to Covid-19 guidelines around social distancing.

A contact spokesperson for Portroe Dive Centre could not be reached for comment.

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