‘My family have drowned, I know they have. My father, my brother, and his girlfriend’

A 14-year-old girl yesterday recounted the moment when she saw her father attempt to rescue her brother and her brother’s girlfriend when a freak wave swept them out to sea, only for all three to lose their lives.

‘My family have drowned, I know they have. My father, my brother, and his girlfriend’

Charlotte Davis Ryan was at Baltimore in West Cork with her father, Barry Ryan, 51, her brother, Barry Davis Ryan, 20, and his girlfriend, Niamh O’Connor, also 20, on June 30, 2015 when tragedy struck.

All four were fishing on the eastern side of the Beacon near Baltimore when a freak wave hit. Niamh and Barry Davis Ryan were swept out to sea, and Barry Davis went to their assistance only to get into difficulty himself.

Mr Ryan and Ms O’Connor were pronounced dead at the scene, while the body of 20 year-old Barry Davis Ryan was recovered on July 10.

At the inquest into their deaths in Clonakilty, Co Cork, yesterday, Ms Davis Ryan gave evidence of raising the alarm. In a statement read into evidence she said the day was passing without incident until the wave hit. She recalled that Niamh and Barry Davis Ryan had been talking about buying a house and were in good spirits.

At 6pm, a decision was made to go fishing. They climbed down the rocks to fish. Barry Davis Ryan went further down the rocks and Niamh went over to join him. Charlotte said a big wave came and hit her and her dad and pushed them against the rocks. Barry Davis Ryan and Niamh were dragged out to sea by the pressure of the wave. The teenager said her father made the decision to rescue the pair and she ran off to raise the alarm.

“Niamh was screaming,” she said. “My dad told me to keep going. He swam out to Niamh. I thought as I was walking up the hill that they would be okay and I was making a big deal of it. I saw Barry was going backwards to the other side. Niamh and my dad were closer. I couldn’t see Barry. I started to panic. I was out of breath when I met tourists.

“The Welsh tourists rang the coastguard and I walked them down to the spot and they were holding my hand. Two bodies were found. Barry was further out.”

Niamh O’Connor, Barry Davis Ryan, and Barry Ryan
Niamh O’Connor, Barry Davis Ryan, and Barry Ryan

Tourist Christine Burr Jones said she met Charlotte on the path. The girl told her: “My family have drowned, I know they have. My father, my brother, and his girlfriend. I know they are dead. I saw their heads go down.”

Ms Burr Jones said Charlotte was in serious shock and trembling.

Local woman Siobhan Murphy gave evidence of seeing the relevant parties in the water. However, she thought they were swimming and was not aware that they were in difficulties. She was out walking and said she saw a man (Barry Ryan) enter the water. She said he seemed calm and she did not think there was any incident unfolding.

Kieran Cotter, coxsman of Baltimore Lifeboat said he was notified by Valentia Coastguard of an incident on the rocks at 6.36pm on the day in question. He said Barry Ryan and Niamh were recovered from the water. CPR was carried out but all efforts to revive them failed and the pair were pronounced dead by Jason Vanderveldt.

The search for the body of Mr Davis Ryan continued for many days and involved the input of up to 80 divers who were mainly voluntary.

Mr Cotter issued a general warning that anyone fishing near rocks should wear lifejackets.

“It gives the emergency services the opportunity to get to them and rescue them. It [drowning] is happening every year on rocks. The sea can be very unpredictable and people can be caught unawares.”

Diver Eric Hennessy said Barry Davis Ryan’s body was recovered on July 10. Divers had searched for his body using a grid system to leave no area uncombed.

Assistant State pathologist Margaret Bolster of CUH carried out autopsies on the deceased. She said all three victims died of acute respiratory failure consistent with drowning. She said death would have been instantaneous. Niamh O’Connor and Barry Davis Ryan incurred brain injuries after being hit up against rocks.

Dr Bolster said a significant factor in causing the deaths of both young people was traumatic brain injury with subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Coroner Frank O’Connell recorded a verdict of accidental death in all three cases. He commended Barry Ryan for his efforts to save two lives.

“He gave his life in the course of trying to save two others. He was obviously an extremely brave and courageous man to do what he did. It was a very unfortunate and unlucky turn of events,” said Dr O’Oconnell.

He extended his sympathy to the Ryan and O’Connor families following their tragic losses.

Mr Ryan and Mr Davis Ryan were the son and grandson of Penney’s founder, Arthur Ryan, while Ms O’Connor was the grandniece of former Cork GAA stars Bertie Óg and Tadgh Murphy.

At Niamh O’Connor’s Requiem Mass, her father Paul said that his daughter was “a stunner” who had found “the love of her life” in Barry Davis Ryan. “He idolised her and she idolised him. He was her soul mate.”

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