SUNDAY August 23rd 1942 is forever etched on the minds of people in the Ballinamore area – the day on which six young people lost their lives in a tragic boating accident at Carrickmakeegan, on the Ballinamore-Ballyconnell Canal, close to where it enters Garadice Lake.
Lost in the drowning were Sean Dolphin, Seamus Wisley, Maureen Rowley, Carmel Prior, Minnie Walsh and Maureen Moran, all aged between 15 and 19 years. They and their friends Eamon Canning, Betty Bohan, Teresa Martin, Carmel Conlon, Noel Dolan, Bernadette Wisley and Vincent Keegan clambered excitedly into a boat on August 23, 1942, only for it to capsize and they were all tumbled headlong into the deep water. Thanks to the heroism of the only swimmer in the group, Noel Dolan, and the valiant efforts of Vincent Keegan, the catastrophe was prevented from being even worse, as they managed to save the lives of some of the youngsters.
The 70th Anniversary of the tragedy was commemorated by the Local Studies Section of Leitrim County Library, Ballinamore, in conjunction with representatives of the families involved, and this included recollections and discussions, together with a photographic and memorabilia display in the Library on August 25; a Commemorative Mass in St. Patrick’s Church, concelebrated by Fr. Charles Heerey P.P. and by an t-Athair Séamus Ó Dubhthaigh on Sunday 26, followed by a remembrance ceremony at Carrickmakeegan Bridge, beside the memorial to the victims.
A large and representative attendance was present in the Library and the special guest was Bernadette Wisley, the last remaining survivor of the group that had travelled to Carrickmakeegan on that fateful day seventy years ago. Bernadette emotionally recalled the memories of her friends and all the events of the disastrous evening, recalling how she had been saved from drowning by Noel Dolan and how so many families had been devastated by the great loss of life and also by the personal traumas suffered by the survivors. Many others spoke of their personal recollections of events surrounding the drownings, or recalled what they had heard from other older family or community members – it was a tragedy that had touched so many individuals and so many families, indeed the whole area.
The agonising scenes at Carrickmakeegan; the transfer of the bodies of the dead to the Catholic Hall by John James Maxwell; the uncontrollable grief at the wake of the six young people; the subsequent inquest and the six heart wrenching funerals were all touched on, in the discussion and it was fitting that among the large crowd in attendance were not only direct family members, but also others whose own relations had played some part in the harrowing events of August 1942.
Tommy Moran, who had chaired the discussion, extended sincere thanks on behalf of the families and the community to Gabrielle Flynn, Acting County Librarian; to Mary Conefrey, Assistant Librarian; to Kim Taylor, Branch Librarian; to Mary Bohan, Senior Library Assistant and to all the staff of the Ballinamore Library for their work in the 70th Anniversary Commemoration and for all the arrangements, including the publication of a commemorative pamphlet and the holding of the exhibition. One very interesting item in the exhibition is a Celtic Cross which was constructed from matchsticks by John Joe McGirl and other Republican prisoners in the Curragh in 1942, in memory of those who had lost their lives at Carrickmakeegan. Thanks was also expressed to Cyril Smith of Smith Monumentals for his work in restoring and renewing the Carrickmakeegan memorial.
Following the Anniversary Mass on Sunday morning family members, relatives and members of the Ballinamore, Carrickmakeegan and Drumreilly communities gathered at the memorial, which was blessed By Fr. Heerey PP, as prayers were recited for all who had been lost in the tragedy, as well as for the Crowe brothers from Ballymagovern who had tragically drowned in Garadice Lake some years ago.
Red roses were dropped into the waters of the canal to commemorate each of the victims of August 23rd 1942; by Yvonne Maxwell, whose grandfather John James had transported the bodies to the Catholic Hall, in memory of Minnie Walsh; by Brendan Dolphin in memory of his brother Sean; by Gerry Rowley, in memory of his cousin Maureen Rowley; by Bríd McCormack, in memory of Carmel Prior; by Seamus Wisley in memory of his grand-uncle Seamus Wisley and by Evan Moran, in memory of his grand-aunt Maureen Moran.
As a finale to the ceremony Marian Burns, whose father Eamon Canning had been one of the survivors, gave a beautiful rendition of Galway Bay, the song the group of youngsters had been singing as they happily climbed into the boat all those years ago, little knowing the tragedy that was to befall them moments later.