Memorial unveiled for St Johnston drowning victims

Geraldine Gallagher, whose son Brian drowned in 2008, says a prayer before cutting the ribbon on a memorial tree for all those lost to the River Foyle.

A memorial has been unveiled in St Johnston to four young friends who drowned while swimming in the River Foyle 100 years ago.

A tree planting ceremony and a cross-community prayer service was held on Friday evening, a century to the day since Arthur James Dowds (9) and James Orr (9) along with their 13-year-old friends, George Quigley and Patrick O’Donnell lost their lives after getting into difficulty while enjoying a summer paddle on June 30, 1917.


The four children were swimming near a pool in the river known as ‘The Widgeon’s Hole’ when disaster struck. All four were from the village of St Johnston.

Friday evening’s service was led by clergy from both the Catholic and Protestant faiths, among them Rev Craig Wilson, Monsignor Dan Carr, Rev Dr David Latimer and Canon David Crooks.

Among those gathered was Sharon Fischer who flew in from Canada especially for the poignant ceremony.

Ms Fischer only recently discovered her family links to one of the victims, George Quigley, through her grandfather John Quigley.

John Quigley worked in St Johnston for his uncle, Sam Quigley, who owned a mercantile store in the village in the early part of the 20th century.

Ms Fischer had been researching her grandfather’s roots when she stumbled upon the connection to St Johnston and the 1917 drowning.

People, including Sharon Fischer (front row, fourth from left) who, along with her husband flew in from Canada especially for Friday’s service, begin to gather in St Johnston.


On Friday evening, she read out a poem in memory of her late relative.

An emotional Ms Fischer told the Donegal News, “I feel very close to this area and I feel at home here.

“To think what the people of this small village are doing for the four boys all these years after they drowned, I just can’t describe how I feel.”

Also in attendance were relatives of Patrick O’Donnell. Among them Fr Oliver McCrossan whose father was a half-brother of Mr O’Donnell, Mona Booker who would have been his niece and Bell Doherty, whose mother was a half-sister of the deceased.

Rev David Latimer reads out a tribute on Friday evening.

Fr McCrossan said, “I think it is good for the community that this is happening now because there are people out there who might not even be aware of this tragedy.

“Obviously because they were so young, the four young boys will be the centre point of the memorial but it is important too that we remember all those who have died on the river because there have been a number of individual tragedies over the years.”

It is expected that the four drownings and indeed everyone who has lost their lives to the Foyle will be remembered with an annual ceremony in St Johnston.

Bell Doherty added, “My mother was never done talking about the four young fellas and I remember her telling me how Patrick’s mother was the district nurse for this area and she lived in Church Lane here in St Johnston.

“She ran through the fields to the Foyle rather than taking to the roads after she knew that Patrick was down there.

“It must have been a terribly sad time and I know my mother would be very proud of the fact that this is being done now.

“It will be there now for future generations and who knows, it might even act as deterrent because the river is so dangerous,” Ms Doherty added.

Heads bowed in prayer for all those lost to the river.


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