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By Ralph Riegel
Thursday March 27 2008
Nollaig had been diagnosed with post-natal depression but the medication she was prescribed did not seem to be very effective
A YOUNG mother who drowned in a forest stream alongside her nine-month-old baby son was last seen singing ‘You Are My Sunshine’ to the toddler as she took him for a walk.
The revelation came as an open verdict was returned by a Cork Coroner’s Court inquest into the deaths by drowning of Nollaig Kenneally-Owens (33), who was suffering from acute post-natal depression, and her son Tadhg.
Both died from acute cardio-respiratory failure due to drowning in the Douglas River in Glanseskin Woods, Kilworth in north Cork on July 14, 2007.
After the heartbreaking last days of the young mother were recounted, the coroner’s court jury recommended that greater help be put in place by the Health Service Executive (HSE) for women suffering from post-natal depression.
The Mallow inquest also confirmed a recommendation that the HSE have psychiatric personnel on 24-hour call — including weekends and bank holidays.
The inquest heard that the tragedy first came to light when a person out walking in the woods that July afternoon spotted the wheels of an upturned baby buggy in the stream.
The devastated husband of Nollaig and father of Tadhg, Gareth Owens, explained that the couple had met in December 2000 when both were working at the BUPA healthcare centre in Fermoy, Co Cork.
Mr Owens — who is South African — married Nollaig on August 3, 2002, and they relocated to South Africa the following March. Tadhg was born in November 2006 and the couple decided to relocate to Europe.
They first moved to England in April 2007 but Mr Owens then learned that his new employers were shutting down.
Nollaig had by now been diagnosed with post-natal depression but the medication she was prescribed did not seem to be very effective.
While Mr Owens attempted to sort out his employment situation in England, Nollaig decided to return to Ireland with Tadhg to spend time with her family. Mr Owens worked in England to try and establish a base for the family.
Mr Owens flew to Cork on July 13 last and travelled to his wife’s family home in Kilworth in Cork. He said he offered to take Tadhg to England with him to allow her recuperate and have some time to herself.
Mr Owens said that Nollaig was adamant that Tadhg remain with her, and the couple agreed that mother and son would remain in Ireland while Mr Owens commuted back and forth to England.
Mr Owens — who broke down during his evidence — said Nollaig told him to go back to bed and rest after his journey while she took the baby for a walk.
But, after a while, he said he began to feel concerned and went to the popular public walkway in the local forest to try and locate his wife and child.
He had been searching the area for less than 60 minutes when Nollaig’s brother found him and said that the mother and child had been found and that both had drowned in the nearby river.
Mr Owens said he read in a newspaper just 48 hours later that his wife had attempted suicide the previous week but he had known nothing about this.
Nollaig’s GP later informed him she had attempted suicide the previous week and he had written a medical note to have the young mother admitted to hospital. However, this had not happened.
Nollaig’s sister, Aisling, said the 33-year-old had lived for children and was absolutely thrilled with the birth of her son. She would play and sing with Tadhg for hours and her favourite lullaby to him was ‘You Are My Sunshine’.
It was this song that she was singing to the toddler on the morning of July 14.
Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster confirmed that both mother and little boy died from drowning.
She said there was no indication of trauma on either body and there was no sign that they had fallen or struck their heads.
Cork (North) Coroner, Dr Michael Kennedy said it was still unclear from the investigation how both Nollaig and Tadhg had first entered the stream. In light of this, he said it was impossible to bring in a verdict of either unlawful killing or suicide. The jury then confirmed an open verdict in the case.
Both Mr Owens and the Kenneally family declined to comment to the media following the inquest.
Gardai described the case as one of the most tragic they have ever had to deal with.
– Ralph Riegel