The devastated sister of a young mother who died in a tragic drowning accident in Carlingford Lough has said she will be buried in the wedding dress she never got to wear.
Ruth Maguire was due to marry her partner of 12 years, with whom she has three children, this August before she lost her life in what her family has described as an unfathomable set of circumstances.
The 30-year-old nurse assistant, who lived in Newcastle, went missing after 11.30pm on Saturday, March 16 after a hen night with over 30 friends at a bar in Carlingford, Co Louth.
Her lifeless body was recovered in the water between Carlingford and Greenore by divers on Monday afternoon following an extensive search and rescue operation aided by family members and friends.
In an emotional interview last night, Ruth’s older sister Rachel Wilkinson said she will never understand the sudden death of “a beautiful person who had everything to live for”.
“It’s so unexpected; you don’t expect to bury your younger sister,” she said through tears.
“Nobody really knows what happened. Ruth had put out a short video with no sound on Instagram at 12.12am on Sunday and that was the last time she used her phone.
“But on that image there was a picture of a doorway to a small cottage across the road from the entrance to the pier and that’s what triggered the whole search in the lough.”
Rachel said alarm bells went off when James Griffin (35) – Ruth’s fiance and dad to their two sons Tyler (10) and Oliver (5) and a daughter, Lydia (7) – got a call to say she hadn’t come home on Saturday night.
“He knew there was something drastically wrong immediately,” she said.
“She hadn’t rang anybody … James brought the kids to my mum’s right away and then he went down and tried to find her.”
Accounts assistant Rachel, who was at home in Belfast, recalled the frantic phone call she received from her mum around lunchtime on St Patrick’s Day and she told how they contacted the PSNI, then the hospitals.
Her brother Raymond Worthington (32), who had been on his way to Dublin, was diverted to Carlingford; then her husband Ben Wilkinson (39) drove them to the Co Louth town.
That’s where they also joined eldest sibling Ryan Maguire (46) and his girlfriend Amanda, and she revealed that a “lovely family” invited them to stay at their B&B that Sunday.
“Mum expected the worst; her gut instinct was that there was something very badly wrong because it was completely out of character,” Rachel said.
“Mum said if Ruth had a breath in her she’d have rang home to ask how the kids were…”
It transpired that James was the last family member to speak to Ruth that Saturday around 7.30pm after she’d finished dinner. “She was in good form, she sounded happy and she didn’t sound like she’d had a lot to drink or anything; she just seemed normal,” Rachel said.
But when the hens left the bar in “dribs and drabs” later that night, Rachel, who’s in her 30s, revealed that “somehow Ruth ended up on her own”.
Mum-of-two Rachel said there were two exits to the bar – one at the front and one at the side – and explained that Ruth, who worked at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, left via the front and turned the wrong way.
“I think she’d lost her bearings,” she said. “She was trying to find where they were staying. They were actually staying six or seven doors down from there so she’d got herself to the road she should’ve been on but she was at the wrong section. But she’d more or less got herself back on track … which was why it didn’t make sense for her to cross the road and go onto the pier…”
Struggling to find words to convey the tsunami of grief that has engulfed her close-knit family over the past few days, Rachel said it’s been very difficult to tell anyone about Ruth’s death.
“I’m in a bit of denial and shock,” she said.
“I had to tell our seven-year-old son Louis what had happened because I was so upset but I can’t tell our other son Oscar (3) as he’s too young.
“We can’t get our heads around it so we can’t really expect them to understand … and it was absolutely heartbreaking for James to have to tell their children.”
She said their parents, Geraldine Worthington and Malachy Maguire, who lives in London, are also devastated and shocked – but so very grateful to everyone who helped in the search.
“In some way it probably helps that we found her,” Rachel said. “At least we’re not left with the uncertainty of wondering if somebody took her. Initially mum was worried that a car had hit her. At least now there’s some sort of closure in that they found her.”
Following news of her devastating death it emerged that Ruth, who was an underage coach at Bryansford GAC, was part of a triple tragedy to strike the club over the St Patrick’s bank holiday weekend.
Two former players and friends, Shane McAnallen and Martin Patterson, who were both in their 20s, were killed in a car crash near Carlingford in the early hours of Monday morning.
SDLP councillor Mark Murin, chair of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council, said it was a time of unspeakable grief in the Newcastle area and he offered his condolences to all three families.
Mr Murin added that Ruth, who was also a casual leisure attendant in the Newcastle Centre, was “pleasant-natured, intuitive and hard-working” and was “popular with colleagues and customers alike.”
Describing Ruth as a home bird, Rachel said a night out “wasn’t really her thing” because her life revolved around taking her kids to various classes.
“Ruth didn’t really drink. She had tea on her 30th birthday.
“This was a rare occasion when she was having a few drinks. It’s not her scene. She’s never been one for going out. She was very much a family girl.”
Rachel added: “I honestly don’t know what happened. I don’t think the gardai know either … and I don’t think it would be fair on Ruth to speculate.”
But now, after the terrible tragedy that unfolded during Ruth’s friend’s hen, instead of looking forward to her beloved sister’s wedding, Rachel finds herself preparing for her funeral this weekend.
It will leave her mother’s residence in Ligoniel Place, Belfast on Saturday at 8.30am to arrive at St Vincent de Paul Church for 9am Requiem Mass, then on to Carnmoney Cemetery for committal at 11am.
“She was getting married on August 8. Everything was ready; she was very organised,” Rachel said. “I was going to be maid of honour. All the children – hers, mine and Ryan’s little girl Nyla (8) – were going to be flower boys and girls. There were 180 guests.”
She added: “We are going to let her wear her wedding dress in the coffin.”
Through tears, Rachel said Ruth was “very family-focused, bubbly, funny, and level-headed”, adding that “even though she was the baby of the family she was the sensible one of the four of us”.
“She was very determined and even with three kids she was always studying and trying to progress in work,” she said. “She was inspirational because she was such a brilliant mum.
“We’re a very close family but her and I were particularly close, especially with the children. The cousins did a lot together. We were best friends and sisters. We talked every day.”
Rachel said it’s “so difficult not understanding why she went across to the water”.
“The coming months were going to be so exciting … I don’t get it,” she added. “The hardest part for all of us is that she’s not here.
“But the sister bond is so special … and I don’t have a sister anymore.”
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