This Saturday, August 25 at 5.30pm Leitrim County Library marks the 70th anniversary of “one of the saddest tragedies that has ever happened in Leitrim.” On August 23, 1942 six young people were drowned in a terrible boating accident at Carrickmakeegan, just two miles outside of Ballinamore.
Ballinamore Library will host a discussion on this tragic event with members of the families of the victims and members of the families of the survivors chaired by Tommy Moran. There is still one survivor alive and living in Ballinamore - Bernadette Wisely Spollen and she will attend the event with members of her family. The anniversary will be marked with an exhibition and a short video. A special anniversary mass will be held on the following day for all six victims of the boating accident and the deceased survivors of the 1942 event.
The six victims of the accident were Sean Dolphin, Ballinamore (19 years old), Maureen Moran, High St, Ballinamore (15 year old), Seamus Michael Wisley, Railway Terrace, Ballinamore (20 years old), Maureen Rowley, Ardrum, Ballinamore (16 years old), Carmel Prior, Ardrum House, Ballinamore (16 years old) and Minnie Walsh, Saint Kevin’s, Ballinamore.
The survivors were Bernadette Wysley Spollen, Noel Dolan, Vincent Keegan, Eamonn Canning, Therese Martin, Betty Bohan, Carmel Conlon
There were 13 young people from the town who cycled to Carrickmakeegan bridge, which spans the canal about two miles from Ballinamore on the sunny August 23, 1942.
At an inquest into the accident, on August 24 (the day after the event) it was reported by the Leitrim Observer that all 13 got into a flat bottomed boat (16x4ft) which had been moored at Maxwells Shore on the canal bank. As the two oarsmen Noel Dolan and Vincent Keegan managed to get clear of the bank, it appears there were too many passengers on one side of the boat - it went over on its side and the water started to come in. Panic set in and the passengers all plunged out, except Mr Keegan, a non swimmer who “went into the water showing great bravery and composure in rescuing three of the party.”
Noel Dolan, who was a swimmer helped Bearnadette Wisley to the shore. After undressing, Mr Dolan went in again to try and rescue Sean Dolphin, but “despite his best efforts his friend was lost.” Dolan also helped Vincent Keegan after he got in difficulty trying to save others.
According to the archives “by the time Sgt Hugh J Gillespie, Ballinamore arrived on the scene at 4.50pm, only the body of Carmel Prior had been pulled out of the canal by local farmer Hugh Baxter.” Great efforts were made by Hugh Baxter, John Gallagher and Vincent Keegan to revive her. The rest of the bodies were recovered from the canal but Dr PJ Moroney was unable to revive any of them. Fr Brady CC Ballinamore administered the Last Rites.
Both Noel Dolan and Vincent Keegan were later commended on their great heroism in rescuing five of the party “at great risk to their own lives.”
Patrick Moran, father of the deceased Maureen Moran told the inquest in Ballinamore that he felt no blame for anyone and hoped and prayed they were all in heaven. He added “the last time that I saw my child was in the Church Choir on Sunday.” It is reported that the town of Ballinamore went into mourning for two days, all business closed, while work in offices and outdoors were suspended.
While it was originally intended to have a public funeral for all six victims, families wanted their own private funerals to pay their last tributes. The first funeral was that of Carmel Prior at 2.30pm and the other funerals followed at half hour intervals after that. The Local Defence Forces formed a guard of honour, members of the Red Cross marched behind the coffins and representatives from all of the churches, sporting clubs and the general public from all over the county attended the funerals.
In September 1990 a memorial monument was erected at Carrickmakeegan bridge. A number of songs were composed in tribute to and in memory of the victims and to the heroism of those who helped to save those drowning.