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Brave beach rescue by Westport man

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LIFESAVER Michael Downes from Westport received a silver medal at the Oireachtas National Bravery awards last week after he rescued a boy from the sea at Old Head in Louisburgh, back in July, 1974. Pic: Maxwells

Oisín McGovern

A MAN who saved the life of a boy off Old Head beach has been honoured for his bravery at the Ceann Comhairle Awards.
Michael Downes from Westport was awarded a Silver Medal by Ceann Comhairle, Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD, as part of the National Bravery Awards.
Michael was honoured for rescuing the boy who was drowning off Old Head back in July 1974. Deputy Ó Feraghaíl also presented bronze medals to Michael Nallon for rescuing a man from a digger in Ballinafad in 2020 and to Rosaleen Feeney for rescuing a man from a burning house near Ballinrobe in 2021.
On the day in question, Michael Downes responded to a cry for help when the boy fell out of an overturned canoe.
Noticing that the tide was on the turn, and without a moment’s thought for his own safety, Michael dived off the pier and into the water.
Michael, who was a strong swimmer, swam out to where the panicking boy was (approximately 120 yards) and attempted to calm him down.
The tide was now rapidly turning and the boy had become exhausted.  
Michael, knowing how tired the boy was, secured him over the bow of the canoe and attempted to swim back to the pier pulling the canoe.
As the tide was going out, he had to navigate across a rocky patch where he received significant cuts resulting in loss of blood and hypothermia.
Despite the rocks cutting him he managed to get the boy back to the safety of the pier where they were received and looked after.

Proud and thankful
“I’m very proud of getting the award and very thankful of getting the award. Even more than that, I’m very fortunate that I saved that boy’s life,” Michael told The Mayo News yesterday.
The annual National Bravery Awards are awarded by Comhairle na Míre Gaile – the Deeds of Bravery Council – which was founded 75 years ago in 1947 to enable State recognition of exceptional Acts of Bravery.
The Council is chaired by the Ceann Comhairle and includes the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, the Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork, the Garda Commissioner, the President of the Association of City and County Councils, and the Chairman of the Irish Red Cross.