Call for lifeguards at beach after swimmer saved by surf instructor

Lifeguard call at Tullan rejected by Irish Water Safety

Declan Magee


Declan Magee

Community erects sign warning of dangerous rip current at Donegal beach

A sign the local community erected at Tullan Strand

A call for lifeguards to be assigned to a Donegal beach, which has been identified as being dangerous for swimmers, has been shot down by Irish Water Safety.
The call was made at the Donegal Municipal District meeting on Tuesday by Cllr Barry O’Neill who wants Donegal County Council to appoint lifeguards at Tullan Strand in Bundoran. It follows what he says was a serious incident last week in which a swimmer could have drowned without the assistance of a local surfer. The danger of the beach was highlighted in a risk assessment carried out by Irish Water Safety on the recommendation of a coroner following the drowning of Corporal Gavin Carey in 2016.
But Chief Executive of Irish Water Safety John Leech said yesterday that the facilitation of swimmers on the beach could lead to more drownings.

“The beach is 2km long and the position of the rips change all the time and that is why it is such a dangerous beach,” he told the Donegal Democrat.
“To put lifeguards on it and make it a designated bathing area and to facilitate swimming there will make people think it is safe to swim there.
“It is fine for surfing but it is not safe for bathers. The risk assessment report was very strong that we don’t want people in the water even if you have lifeguards there,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it is not suitable for swimming and we have lost people on the beach and we don’t want any to lose anymore by facilitating bathing. We have other wonderful beaches that are considerably safer.”
Cllr O’Neill said local surf schools are logging incidents at the beach and have been involved in assisting people who get into difficulty at Tullan in recent weeks.
He said the most serious incident occurred on July 3 when three men entered the water and one got into difficulty in a rip current and could not get back into the beach.
His friends started shouting for help and a local surf instructor paddled out to him and brought him to shore.
Cllr O’Neill said that it was just one of a number of incidents.
“There are incidents ongoing and no one knows about it and it would be better if it happened there that there be some level of protection. It should not be left to surf instructors, surf schools and surfers themselves.”
The instructor who rescued the 23-year man from Northern Ireland was from the TurfnSurf surf school in Bundoran
Killian O'Kelly from the school said the man was caught in very similar circumstances to those that took the life of Corporal Carey.
He said the man was lucky that one of the surf instructors was nearby otherwise it could have been another tragedy.
Mr O'Kelly said the problem at the beach is that it is so busy, it is impossible to keep people out of the water.
He added that surf instructors, who are all trained lifeguards, should not be left to ensure the beach is safe.
‘‘Joe Bloggs turns up on a busy day and sees hundreds of people in the water,” he said.
“The solution is to do what the council does at 14 other beaches and have lifeguards on the beach.
“There are two different approaches to the same problem. My approach is to put lifeguards on the beach. Their approach - Donegal County Council - and Irish Water Safety, is to put signs on the beach.
“Lifeguards are needed if you seriously want to prevent loss of life given how popular that beach is now. It's too popular to rely on signage to keep people out of the water.”
Corporal Gavin Carey (27) of Mullingar, Co Westmeath drowned on the beach after getting into difficulties on August 23, 2016. His body was recovered after an extensive search.
At the inquest into the death a year ago, Donegal Coroner Dr Denis McCauley recommended that clear warning signs be erected at the beach.