Coast Guard callout to Donegal beauty spot a stark reminder of dangers of tide, terrain and being ill-prepared

“If people are going to go down there, they need to know that the route is very challenging"

Irish Coast Guard

There are rising fears that it is only a matter of time until someone dies while accessing the waterfall or on the busy road at Largy

Much has been said and written about the dangers of visiting the so-called ‘Secret Waterfall’ at Largy, but people are still flocking to the beauty spot.

On Saturday, Killybegs Coast Guard responded to a callout that many people in the area had been dreading - someone was caught by the incoming tide.

Fortunately, the person made it to safety, but it has served as a stark reminder of how treacherous this coastal cave can be.

Shane McCrudden of Killybegs Coast Guard said the team had been returning from another callout at the Silver Strand in Malinbeg when the 999 call came through.

“One of our team members made a call to a person who was down there and was satisfied that they didn’t need any further assistance or medical attention,” he said.

But with so many visitors to the waterfall being ill-prepared for the conditions, Mr McCrudden wants people to understand exactly how dangerous it can be.

“It is a very challenging route,” he said. “There is this idea that you just go across the field and you are there but that is not the case.

“There are big slabs of rock that you have to climb over. There is a lot of growth on them and they are very slippery. 

“In between the slabs there are deep depressions and the tide comes in there first.

“If you were standing at the mouth of the cave looking back the way you came and you could still see the slabs, that would give you a very false sense of security. The tide could be filling the depressions in between the slabs and you wouldn’t be able to see it.

“There are loose crags there too and people can fall or get their feet caught. It happened a person recently and we had to stretcher them off the rock.

“That was a serious situation, a real-world rescue; it was as close a call as I want to have down there.”

Mr McCrudden is also concerned about the message that it is ok to go to the waterfall at low tide.

“If you go down there at low tide it is already too late,” he said. “You would need to be there well before low tide. The water comes in a lot faster in the first few hours of the tide, so you could get caught very quickly without realising it.

“When we responded to the call on Saturday, we went down to the cave to make sure there was no-one there. The tide had two hours yet to come at that stage and from the water to the back of the cave, there were only five or six metres left. If you get trapped, the only way out is up and it is almost a sheer cliff.

“There were people still coming down across the field and we advised them to turn back.”

Another concern is how quickly conditions can change, especially on such an exposed coast.

“Donegal Bay is the biggest bay in the country,” said Mr McCrudden. “The swell and the waves can turn nasty very quickly.”

Not only can this endanger people caught on the coast, it can also significantly hamper rescue efforts.

Dangerous parking on the main road at Largy where there isn’t even a verge is causing a lot of concern locally. And this could also impact on the success - or otherwise - of a rescue at the waterfall.

Mr McCrudden said his crew had difficulty getting their vehicles parked in a safe position and getting equipment unloaded  when they attended a recent call out.

The rising popularity of the Secret Waterfall has certainly become a major concern for local emergency services.

“If people are going to go down there, they need to know that the route is very challenging,” said Mr McCrudden. “They should have the right footwear, familiarise themselves with the tides, respect landowners and their property, and be safe on the road.”

Anyone who suspects that someone is in difficulty on or near water is reminded to call 999 or 112 immediately.

“Don’t wait,” said Mr McCrudden. “We would always rather respond and not be needed than to have someone not make the call.”

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