There were emotional scenes by the Shannon’s edge on Saturday last (December 15 ) as more than 200 people gathered for the opening of a memorial garden to recall those who lost their lives on Lough Ree and the river.
At Coosan Point members of the RNLI unveiled the stone memorial garden, the product of work done by local people on a site provided by Westmeath County Council.
It was the death of a friend, a character, and fisherman Joe Dooner which spurred the locals into developing the memorial, but it’s being welcomed by many further afield.
Jacinta Dillon travelled from near Drogheda to remember her sister Frances Lane, a 26-year-old doctor at Portiuncula who lost her life in a freak accident when she drove into the lake at Coosan Point 30 years ago.
Jacinta explained that she had always wanted a memorial for her sister, but her parents found the prospect too painful.
She had no idea so many people had lost their lives on the Shannon and was moved by the kindness of people at Coosan, who made the effort to remember Frances.
“It’s fantastic. Apart from what we’re looking at, it’s the goodness of the people who have reached out to all the families of those who have lost their lives, who have done this for me, for my family and all the families out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a wonderful thing.”
At a special outdoor mass, Fr Declan Shannon said the community stands beside all of those who have lost their family, friends, and loved ones on the Shannon and Lough Ree.
He spoke of the two sides of the Shannon, the amenity that provides joy and relaxation, and the darker side.
“We stand with you in unity that you will know that your pain has not been ignored, and your loved one has not been forgotten. This is our Union Hall. And we know, and we want you to know that you are not alone” he said, recalling the tragedy in Cork earlier this year.
Michael Ganly described how the Shannon tragedies in his family go back to around 1896 when his father’s uncle and friend were drowned in a storm near Charlie’s Island, as they rowed back from a market in Athlone.
His uncle Johnny lost his life in 1989 returning to Hare and in 1994 while getting ready to fish, his cousin Seamus McCormack lost his life at Portrunny.
“I can only hope that St Kieran and his monks helped Johnny on his final journey,” he said, pointing out that the Shannon has taken lives since Hare Island was inhabited by the saint in 540AD.
In a speech that drew tears from many of those present, he acknowledged that everyone present had similar experiences.