“He was turning grey before they got to him. If it wasn’t for those two boys, my son would be dead. If they weren't there, I’d be burying my son.”
Siobhan O’Riordan, her husband Darren and their four sons were on a family day trip to Fota Wildlife Park and decided to stop off at the beach in Youghal beach for a swim on the way home when disaster struck.
“My husband went out with three of my four sons for a swim,” she explained. “I was holding my youngest, a one year-old, and watching on from the beach. They were only up to around Darren’s waist and suddenly it started to get a bit choppy. Darren told them it was time to get out and started to lift them out onto the rocks but just as he went to grab Dean (7), he was sucked under and was gone.”
Panic began to set in as Darren frantically tried to grab hold of the frightened child.
"My husband had a hold of him three separate times and each time the tide was so strong it pulled him away again,” Siobhan said. “He has cuts all over him from the rocks and trying to get to Dean. I was told afterwards I was screaming, but I actually can’t remember. I had run in up to my knees by the time I realised that I still had my baby in my arms. I was helpless. There was nothing I could do.”
Swimming nearby were two brothers James (24) and Patrick (16) McCarthy from Mayfield in Cork. Hearing the commotion and seeing Dean screaming for help, they immediately and selflessly leapt into action.
"They swam out into the current towards him and put themselves completely at risk,” Siobhan recalls. “Each of them grabbed an arm. Dean was in pure survival mode at that stage and was pulling them down. He was gone a grey/blue colour. They managed to keep his head up though and for some reason, whether it was mother’s instinct or what, I just knew from that point he was going to be alright.”
Dean was brought back to shore and emergency services called. He was brought to hospital and treated for secondary drowning. The younger of the two brothers, Patrick, was also hospitalised following his efforts to save the young Wexford man.
"Dean was gone,” Siobhan recalls. “He was turning grey before they got to him. If it wasn’t for those two boys, my son would be dead. If they weren't there, I’d be burying my son.”
Thankfully, Dean is now on the mend and is hoping to meet up with James and Patrick later this week to thank them in person.
"You can just never thank somebody enough when something like this happens,” Siobhan says. “They’ll never understand what they’ve done for our family.”
Meanwhile, Siobhan is keen to ensure the frightening experience was not in vain and to encourage other families to be safe at the beach.
"If I get anything from this, it’s to be more aware of currents and riptides,” she said. “We are used to going to the beach with the children. We go to Curracloe etc in Wexford all the time. But this happened so quick. All it takes is for you to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"In these situations, people often ask ‘where were the parents?’ But my husband was right there with Dean and he still couldn’t stop the current from pulling him away. There were two lifeguards on a stretch of beach that runs for around three miles. They never would have got to Dean anyway though. What good are binoculars when my son is drowning?
"I suppose I just wanted to warn other parents how quickly something like this can happen. The sea is very unpredictable. You can never underestimate the power of the water. This literally happened in two minutes.”
Thankfully, having returned to their home in Ballycullane, Co Wexford, all is well that ends well for the O’Riordan family, but they’ll never forget their visit to Youghal beach and how the selfless actions of strangers saved them from tragedy.