‘A devastating tragedy’

Portronan, Malin Head.
Portronan, Malin Head.

One of two members of the same family, who lost their lives in a devastating sea tragedy off Malin Head, will be laid to rest today.

Gerry Doherty, who lived in Burt and 16-year-old Thomas Weir, from Scotland and who had been staying in Derry, died in tragic circumstances after their boat capsized about half a mile from Portronan Pier on Tuesday.

A third man, who lives in Derry, was rescued from the water and discharged from hospital on Wednesday.

It is understood the men had been in the water for a number of hours before the alarm was raised by holiday makers staying near Portronan Pier.

Gerry Doherty, in his 60s, is formally from Malin and Carndonagh and is also known as Gerry ‘Malin’ Doherty. He will be laid to rest today following Requiem Mass in St Mary’s Church, Lagg, Malin. His father died in heartbreakingly similar circumstances over 30 years ago when he drowned off Malin Head.

It is understood Thomas Weir is a relative of Mr Doherty, as is the man who survived the tragedy.

The Irish Coastguard Station at Malin Head.

The Irish Coastguard Station at Malin Head.

Donegal County Councillor Albert Doherty went to school with Mr Doherty and has fond memories of him. He said the entire community was shocked and saddened by his death. He told how, after leaving school, Mr Doherty went to Australia and London, before moving to Castlecooley in Burt. He expressed his sympathies to the families of both men.

Councillor Martin McDermott said the people of Malin Head had been devastated by the sea tragedy, which is “all too familiar” to the area.

He said: “It’s a devastating tragedy.”

Thomas Weir’s friends also paid tribute to him on social media. One friend said: “Taken far too soon.” Another said: “RIP wee man. My thoughts and love go out to your family.”

More than 40 emergency personnel, alongside members of the public, were involved in the search operation.

Joe Joyce, of Lough Swilly RNLI, told the ‘Journal’ the trio left the pier at Portronan shortly after 9am on Tuesday morning. He added: “At around 12pm, they got into difficulty - the nature of that, we are not sure of. It resulted in the boat being swamped and capsizing. The men entered the water, which they were in for a considerable amount of time - around three and a half to four hours.”

The alarm was raised at 3.30pm when a couple staying in a holiday home near the pier heard a shout for help and contacted Malin Head Coast Guard Station. They immediately tasked Lough Swilly RNLI’s two lifeboats, Greencastle Coastguard and the Sligo 118 coastguard helicopter to the scene.

At the same time, the Officer in Charge at Malin Head Coast Guard went to the scene and saw people in the water.

A ‘Mayday’ request to all local fishing vessels at sea in the Malin area was also put out. The crew of a local fishing boat saw the man in his 50s clinging to a buoy and took him ashore. Volunteers from Greencastle Coastguard and Gardai commenced an immediate shore search and the 118 helicopter sighted Thomas Weir in the water. He was airlifted and taken to Altnagelvin Hospital, where he passed away.

Mr Doherty was spotted on rocks near Banba’s Crown (The Tower) by the public, who alerted the emergency services. Due to the difficult nature of the terrain,the decision was taken by the RNLI and coastguard to stretcher him to the road. A local priest administered the last rites and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Local boats, in conjunction with the RNLI, towed the capsized vessel to Malin pier where it was handed over to Gardai. It is subject to an investigation by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board. Mr Joyce expressed the sympathies of the Lough Swilly RNLI to the families of the men. He also thanked the local fishermen who responded to the request for assistance. Donegal County Councillor Martin McDermott paid tribute to the emergency services, local fishermen and the public. He said the people of Inishowen would give their support to the families in the time ahead.