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Lifelong friends drown in Christmas Day tragedy

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COMMUNITY IN MOURNING Locals from the wider Louisburgh area helped the emergency services on Christmas Day in the search for Declan Davitt and Martin Needham.  Pic: Keith Heneghan
Louisburgh in mourning after tragic deaths of two young men


Anton McNulty

The Louisburgh community is ‘numb with shock’ and ‘struggling to come to terms with’ the loss of two young men, who died when the vehicle they were in was swept downstream in flood waters, in the early hours of Christmas morning.
The bodies of Martin Needham (27) of Aillemore, Killadoon, Louisburgh and Declan Davitt (26) of Curradavitt, Louisburgh, were both recovered from the Carrowniskey River, near Louisburgh, following an extensive search on Christmas Day.
The two men, who have been described as ‘inseparable friends’, had been returning home after a night socialising. The SUV they were travelling in became submerged in water. The vehicle was attempting to cross the river at around 2.30am on Christmas morning.
A third person who was also in the vehicle managed to escape and raise the alarm and an extensive search of the river and nearby lake took place. The initial investigation into the deaths suggests the two men escaped from the vehicle but were unable to save themselves and their bodies were retrieved along the shores of Roonith Lake.
The tragic loss of life has left the whole Louisburgh community in shock over Christmas with family, friends and neighbours taking part in the search on Christmas Day. The two men were lifelong friends and neighbours and had recently returned home having spent the last number of years working on farms in New Zealand.
They were heavily involved in Macra na Feirme and at the start of December they were involved in the ‘Light up Louisburgh’ event, when they drove through the west Mayo town in their tractors decorated in Christmas lights.
Mark of respect
As a mark of respect, the Christmas lights in the town have been turned off and local community leader John Staunton, who helped organise the ‘Light up Louisburgh’ event, said the whole community is devastated by their loss.
“The Louisburgh community is numb with shock over the loss of two of our fine local young men. The community at large is feeling the pain that the Davitt and Needham families are going through. The combined sense of sadness in our community is directed to the heartbroken families involved in this tragic accident,” he told The Mayo News.
“Declan Davitt and Martin Needham were two of the finest young men one could wish to meet. Their gentle and kind manner, their humanity and kindness to others, and their big hearted generosity to family, neighbours and friends is what made up these two friends. They gave willingly of their time to others, and were always involved locally when work and help was needed.
“Just a few short weeks ago, Declan and Martin helped with the ‘Light up Louisburgh’ event by driving their tractors, draped in festive lighting, in the Santa parade. It was such a joyous occasion. Little wonder that both men were involved in such a successful community event. They understood that it takes combined effort to make up a successful community.
“Louisburgh’s Christmas lights will remain off for the duration of Declan and Martin’s funerals, as a mark of respect to our dear departed friends. Our community must now rally round and help each other in whatever way we can, to come to terms with the loss of two beautiful young men. They will both be sadly missed,” he said.
Local undertaker, Peter Sweeney, said the ‘freakish nature’ of the accident had left the community in a sense of shock and the loss of the young men will take its toll on their friends.
“You could cross that river today in your wellingtons but on Christmas Eve there was a lot of rain and the river was swollen,” Mr Sweeney told The Mayo News. “The freakish nature of the accident and the fact it occurred on Christmas Day makes the whole ordeal that bit harder to bare. The enormity of what happened is only really starting to hit home, particularly for their friends. It just shows how quickly life can be taken from you.
“The two lads were friends right through school and you knew that if you met Martin, Declan was not far behind, and vice-versa. The community is struggling to come to terms with the news but is rallying behind the families and concentrating on the funerals. However, in the weeks to come, we will have to come together, as a community, and try to come to terms with what happened,” he said.

‘Terrible tragedy’
Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring, TD, said he knew both men and their families very well and expressed his shock at their deaths.
“People throughout Mayo are shocked by this terrible tragedy. The community in Louisburgh shares the grief of the families and will support them in the difficult times ahead,” he said.The search of the river was co-ordinated by the Gardaí and involved the Westport Coast Guard Unit and the Garda Sub Aqua Unit. The vehicle was discovered close to the crossing point but when searched it showed there were no bodies inside. The river flows into Roonith Lake and the search intensified around the lake. The R118 Coast Guard helicopter was tasked and it discovered the body of Mr Needham at approximately 4pm on the shores of the lake. Mr Davitt was discovered 30 minutes later.
Both bodies were removed to Mayo University Hospital where a post-mortem was performed and a full investigation into the tragedy has been undertaken by Gardaí.
Mr Needham is survived by his parents, Pat Joe and Breege; sisters, Olivia, Patricia, Caitriona and Elaine; and their families. Mr Davitt, who was predeceased by his sister, Kathleen, is survived by his parents, Walter and Mary; brother,  Christopher and sisters, Mary and Patricia.
The two men were waked in their homes which are located within a mile of each other. Mr Needham will be buried today (Thursday) following Requiem Mass at midday in the Church of the Holy Family, Killeen, Louisburgh. Mr Davitt will be laid to rest on Friday following Requiem Mass, also at midday, in Killeen Church.

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