The father of boy who was saved from drowning in the River Lee has hailed his teenage rescuer a hero.
Joe Plunkett said things could have ended tragically for his son, Joe, 13, were it not for the bravery of 14-year-old Clodagh Hayes.
“Clodagh is a hero and deserves all the praise in the world. She’s a very brave girl. We are just so delighted she was there at the time and had the confidence to do what she did,” said Mr Plunkett.
Clodagh, from Glanmire in Co Cork, a second-year student in Coláiste an Phiarsaigh, played down her heroics when Joe and his dad met her last night to thank her at the site of the daring rescue.
Clodagh’s dad, Ray, said: “She was a bit annoyed about the fuss that was being made. She said ‘I did nothing’. She’s very calm and easygoing but there is a steely determination to her.”
The drama unfolded on the Marina around 7.15pm on Monday when Clodagh, who trains six mornings a week with Dolphin Swimming Club and who rows with Lee Rowing Club, turned up for rowing training.
Within minutes, Joe, who was with friends who were jumping into the river nearby, got into difficulty in the strong currents.
A passing cyclist threw a lifebuoy to him but it failed to reach him. Onlookers tried several times to throw a second lifebuoy to him as he was swept into the centre of the channel and downriver. Clodagh asked her dad if she could go in to save him.
“I asked her to hold on a while to see if we could get the lifebuoy to him,” said Mr Hayes.
“But it became clear that he needed help. She’s quite a strong swimmer and I’d have great confidence in her ability. It was nerve-wracking alright but I was confident that she would be able to do what she planned to do. So I gave her strict instructions to swim out with the lifebuoy and pass it to him, and that we’d then help pull him back.”
Clodagh grabbed the ring and swam out to Joe, who was close to exhaustion.
“To be honest, I think he was on his last legs. I don’t think he would have survived if she wasn’t there,” said Mr Hayes.
“He grabbed the lifebuoy and Clodagh went around behind him, grabbed the lifebuoy and began swimming back as we held the rope and pulled them towards us.”
Both reached the riverbank safely. Paramedics examined Joe at the scene. Clodagh was cold and had swallowed a lot of water but did not require medical attention.
Mr Plunkett rushed to the scene and said Clodagh had left by the time they had come to terms with what had happened.
Joe texted Clodagh later to say thanks but Mr Plunkett said they wanted to meet her face-to-face last night to say thank you. He said his son has recovered fully from his ordeal.
Her coach, Mick McCormack, praised Clodagh’s cool-headed assessment of the emergency situation, and described her as a hero.
Mr Hayes said Clodagh was back in the pool at 5am on Tuesday for training.
(Previously published on Irish Examiner)