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Thomas Doherty pictured taking his daily walk along the coast line under the cliffs in Doolin. Picture by Brian Arthur

Cliffs – a place of great beauty and sadness

A MEMBER of the Doolin Unit of the Irish Coastguard has helped to talk down “11 or 12 people” contemplating taking their own lives at the Cliffs of Moher.

Thomas Doherty has been a volunteer with the unit for the last 30 years and he said that over the course of that time, he has talked down 11 or 12 people from the cliff edge “from an 80-year-old woman to a woman in her 40s”.

The softly spoken and self-effacing Doolin man said, “Anybody that has been on the edge has come back for me. It is a good success rate actually. I hope it stays that way.”

Asked what he says to people he suspects may be about to jump, Mr Doherty said, “I ask them straight out, ‘are they thinking about self-harm?’ You have to get straight to the point.”

Mr Doherty has undergone specialist training to deal with such situations and said, “If they say they want to do it, I ask them to come for a chat”.

Mr Doherty was speaking in the wake of two separate inquest days in Ennis over the last month concerning the deaths of four people at the Cliffs this year.

County coroner Isobel O’Dea dealt with three cases from the Cliffs on the same day in October, including one case where a 28-year-old woman from South Korea had made the 5,900-mile journey, including a final one-way bus ticket from Galway, to fall to her death at the Cliffs in the first week of July of this year.

The same day, Ms O’Dea dealt with a case where a German man, in his 20s, had travelled from his home-place in Germany in April, only to leave a taxi-driver short for the fare from Ennis to the Cliffs as his final journey coincided with a Bus Éireann strike day this year.

Mr Doherty said that over the years he is aware of individuals travelling from as far away as Japan, the US and Madrid in Spain to the Cliffs to fall to their deaths.

The deputy officer with the Doolin Unit, Mr Doherty recalls one successful operation he was involved with three years ago, where it took from 10am to 8pm to persuade a man from Manchester not to fall to his death at the Cliffs.

Mr Doherty said that he would “get a lot of satisfaction” being able to talk someone down. He remarked, “I’m glad I haven’t seen anyone go over the edge because that is something that would stay with you for the rest of your time”.

He said the Cliffs of Moher hold the same grim fascination for people as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and Beachy Head in Southern England.

Mr Doherty usually represents the Doolin Unit at ‘Cliffs’ inquests in Ennis and said, “The Cliffs are a place of great beauty but of great sadness as well”.

He also works as a ranger at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience and the most recent ‘Cliffs’ inquest held last week concerned the death of a County Roscommon woman. The inquest heard that Mr Doherty struck up a conversation with the woman on the fortunes of the Roscommon footballers and other talk of the day, as they walked from the Cliffs entrance at around 9am on June 19 last.

CCTV footage captured the two walking together to the entrance of the Cliffs centre, where Mr Doherty said his ‘goodbye’ and the woman kept walking towards the Cliffs.

Not for a second did Mr Doherty suspect that the woman may have been there to take her own life and six days later, Mr Doherty was part of the recovery team with the Doolin Unit to retrieve the woman’s body from waters north of Doolin Point.

Mr Doherty was able to positively ID the woman as the person he was speaking to six days earlier. At the inquest, the woman’s sister and Mr Doherty embraced as they both left the courtroom at the end of the case.

Mr Doherty said that the gardaí are very good at notifying the centre to say such a person, who may be thinking of self-harm, is on their way and to keep an eye out. He said that gardaí often intercept people on the road themselves who they know to be on their way to the Cliffs.

Mr Doherty said that people falling to their deaths at the Cliffs of Moher is not something new.
“I was very young, maybe 10 or 12, when I heard of the first one. A man had come down from Dublin.”
Today, there is signage featuring contact details and information for The Samaritans located throughout the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience site and in the meditation room located at the entrance to the site.
Director at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience, Geraldine Enright said, “Staff are fully equipped and trained to respond to the varying visitor needs during the opening hours of the visitor centre”.

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