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The Tullan Strand Question

Open letter to Seamus Neely Chief Executive Donegal County Council
The Tullan Strand Question
On the 23rd August 2016, a solider named Gavin Carey died while swimming on Tullan Strand Bundoran. On the 15th of July this year, 9 footballers from Fermanagh got into trouble and had to be rescued with 8 of them ending up in hospital.
The purpose of this letter is to outline how and why these type of events happen and how they can be prevented in the future.

History of Tullan Strand.
The public access to Tullan strand was washed away in storm Charlie in 1988. Since then the access has been maintained by a local land owner. Traditionally there were very few beach users on Tullan Strand. This began to change towards the end of the 1990s with the increased number of surfers. In the last 20 years the numbers of surfers of all abilities using Tullan Strand has increased massively. A typical day in Tullan Strand could see up to 500 surfers in the water.
Fact: In the past 20 years, there has been no new infrastructure introduced to the Tullan Strand area. The beach and its amenities are the same today as they were in 1997. The only change Donegal County Council has made in the last 20 years is to introduce parking meters in the public car park beside the privately owned and maintained access.
So why are people getting in Trouble?
No Lifeguard: The Bundoran main beach is less than 1 km away from Tullan Strand and is an equally if not more dangerous beach than Tullan Strand. However, this beach is guarded by 4 lifeguards during the months of June, July and August. Although the lifeguards have to actively prevent many incidents and indeed come to the rescue of people every year, there is a level of control that ensures nothing gets out of hand on Bundoran Main Beach. At this point it is worth noting than one of the most serious incidents to have happened on the main beach was in September 2016 when 3 young girls from Donegal got into difficulty and had to be rescued by surfers. There were no lifeguards on duty.
No access: During the incident with the Fermanagh footballers a total of 5 ambulances were called to the scene. None of these ambulances were able to get on or near the beach. Instead they had to park on the main road outside the public car park. The absence of a way for an ambulance to get on or near the beach is a massive constraint on the ability of emergency services to respond to incidents on Tullan Strand
Signage: The signage that Donegal Co Co have in place at the beach predates the 1990s. It is faded and ineffective. The signage has failed to keep up with the volume of the people using the beach. It also fails to point out local hazards such as the constant rip current along the cliff. This is the rip that both the soldiers and footballers got caught in. Indeed, the only new signage at Tullan relates to parking charges.
Amenities: Although not a direct safety issue it is also worth noting that there are no amenities at Tullan Strand for beach users. There are no portaloos or showers. There is no first aid station. There are no bins on the beach or on the privately-owned access in and out of the beach. There are no ring boys at the access or indeed on the beach.

Victim of success: To the untrained eye Tullan Strand is a very deceiving beach. If you pull up in the car park on a day that the surf is good, you will see hundreds of surfers in the water. This probably means it is not a safe day to swim and definitely means there will be a rip along the cliffs. However, a casual beach user simply sees lots of people in the water and assumes it must be safe. 20 years ago, this was not an issue on Tullan Strand. Today it is very much an issue.
Donegal County Council have charged several small businesses a €1270 season licence to trade at Tullan Strand despite not providing even the most basic amenities for these businesses.

The Solution:

The simple fact is that a lifeguard service on the hugely popular Tullan Strand beach would go a long way to preventing loss of life during the busy summer season. Lifeguard services are run by Donegal County Council on 14 beaches around Donegal. This includes relatively safe beach like Murvagh which is not near as exposed or indeed as popular as Tullan Strand. An active lifeguard service would prevent numerous incidents before they happen. Lifeguards could play a role in educating the public on the local dangers on the beach. This has worked well on the main beaches where lifeguards have raised public awareness about the rip on right hand side of the main beach. The red/yellow flag system alone would allow the public to see, at a glance, if the beach is safe. Lifeguards would be able to deal with numerous minor first aid incidents such as weaver fish stings etc
In the event of a major incident similar to the Fermanagh footballers, the HSE ambulance service need a quick and easy option for getting directly onto the beach. Drowning casualties need immediate access to AED and other vital lifesaving equipment that all ambulances arrive with.
The access for surfers and beach users must be in its current location. Steps similar to the steps from the Bundoran main beach up the cliff walk at the Great Northern hotel are more than adequate. The current pedestrian access cannot be replaced by access a further 470 feet down. It is logical to put in pedestrian access beside the Donegal County Council car park and ambulance access further on down the cul de sac. In the absence of pedestrian access at the current slope there is the possibility that people may short cut across rocks and put themselves directly in to the rip that runs along the cliff.
Signage must take into consideration the local hazards on the beach. Existing signage is too general. In the modern day of information, beach users should be advised of the actual hazards on Tullan Strand. There is no one size fits all solution for this. Consultation with local surfing community who use Tullan Strand every day is a must.

Regardless of the pros and cons of the different solution put forward here, the real solution to the ongoing issues at Tullan Strand is that Donegal County Council needs to provide leadership. This leadership has been lacking in the last 20 years. The problem of access has still failed to be addressed. Due to the massive increase in numbers using the beach, this problem can no longer be delayed and must be examined in the context of the issues outlined here. Bundoran as a community must engage with Donegal County Council to ensure our beaches are safe for locals, visitors and future generations.
Kind Regards
Killian O’Kelly
Owner TurfnSurf Lodge and Surf School Bundoran