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Tragic father drowned on first day of work at new job

Thomond Bridge Tragedy 01.jpg
Thomond Bridge Tragedy 01.jpg

A dad-of-two who tragically died on his first day of work at a new job was waiting for his young family to join him having moving home after years of living abroad.

Tim 'TJ' O'Herlihy (36) was killed alongside co-worker Bryan Whelan (29) after a platform they were working on plunged into the river Shannon on Saturday.

Tim 'TJ' O'Herlihy

The horrific incident took place at Thomond Bridge in Limerick city at 3.30pm when a cable attached to the cage-like structure suspended over the side of the bridge gave way.

The men became trapped when the cage became submerged in the fast flowing waters. Both victims were wearing life jackets, but were also in harnesses which were attached to the cage when it fell into the water.

Speaking to the Herald, TJ's brother Michael revealed that he was not supposed to be working the day of the accident.

"It was his first day. He wasn't supposed to start until next week but he got the call to come in early and was delighted with the extra work.

"He had just moved back home from Sweden where he lived with his partner Tessa.

"He moved back ahead of her to find a house and job, and she was to join him on Monday with his four-year-old son Conor and his little six-month old girl Katie," he said.

"He had just found a house and moved in and was waiting for his family to come home.

"It is devastating. It's so hard to put it into words," added Michael.

TJ, a keen sportsman from Castleisland, Co Kerry, starred on the rugby field with his local club and was also a talented footballer.

"He loved sport and Kerry GAA. He will be remembered as a gentle giant, a happy-go-lucky soul with a big smile, who had all the time in the world for whomever he met in whatever little corner of the world that happened to be. He will be sorely missed," said Michael.

"Our hearts go out at this time also to the family of the other young man who tragically lost his life, standing beside TJ," he added.

The family of Bryan Whelan, from O'Briensbridge, Co Clare, also expressed their heartache at the loss of their loved one, who they described as "a true gentleman who would drop everything at a moment's notice should you need him".

"We are just heartbroken by the tragic loss of Bryan. He was a fantastic son, brother and uncle.

"His level of determination matched the demanding nature of his job which he took great pride in. He lived for his job. He lived life to the fullest and will be deeply missed by us and his wide circle of friends.

"Our thoughts are also with the O'Herlihy family at this immensely tough time," said Bryan's sister-in-law Maura.

A third worker managed to free his harness and swim down river and raise the alarm.

Bryan Whelan 

According to rescue workers, the men were under water for at least 10 minutes without breathing equipment.

Investigations are being carried out by the Health and Safety Authority and the Gardai.

The victims were specialist workers employed by Limerick- based firm Irish Bridge.

The company was contracted by Limerick City and Council to carry out the remedial works to Thomond Bridge, one of the oldest bridges in the city.

An Irish Bridge statement last night offered its "sincerest sympathies to the families of Bryan and TJ following this terrible tragedy".

"It's heart-breaking, our thoughts and prayers are with their families, relatives and friends at this very sad time," the statement read.

Adam Cullen and Kathryn Hayes