UCC student Neil Fleming pal tried to save his life after River Lee fall

Parliament Bridge, Cork.

A POPULAR student drowned after falling into a river when he lost his balance on a wall.

The third year University College Cork business studies student was with a friend and due to attend a UCC departmental ball near the city later that night.

The two pals were on their way to get a lift out to the annual Commerce Ball at Rochestown Park Hotel, Rochestown when Neil Fleming stopped by a wall.

But the 19-year-old is said to have slipped off it at Wandesford Quay near The River Lee Hotel just after 9pm and plunged into the water below him.

Almost immediately, he was dragged under the water by the current.

It was so strong that his friend – who wanted to jump in to save him – is believed to have had to be held back in case they ended up being dragged under as well.

Instead a lifebuoy was thrust over to him as he reappeared very briefly but the current got the better of him again and he was swept away.

Gardai who were carrying out a check point nearby also tried to help after they saw Neil enter the river.

It would be another 20 minutes before his body was finally found at Parliament Bridge, where two Cork City Fire Brigade officers rescued Neil’s body and brought him onto a bank.

Together with a HSE ambulance crew, they frantically tried to revive him for more than two hours but were unable to.

Neil’s body was brought out a few yards from The Sober Lane pub, which is a regular for students.

A member of staff said last night: ‘He was pulled out just across form us. It’s very sad.’

The news has shocked the student community in the city, which is still coming to terms with the death earlier this year of another student.

In February, 21-year-old Adam Buggy was killed when he was struck at around midnight by two cars as he crossed the South Ring Road in Douglas, Cork.

The third-year UCC Arts student had been attending the UCC Arts Ball with 600 other students at the Rochestown Park Hotel.

Messages of condolence started appearing on Neil’s Facebook site about 3am yesterday morning as news of his tragic death started filtering through to the student community.

And by about 5pm last night, more than 140 messages had been left by well-wishers on the site – where he had some 575 friends.

One friend wrote: ‘Can’t believe it man . . . sickened . . . gona miss you big time Flemdog’.

Another simply said: ‘Such a huge loss’ while another read: ‘I’m going to miss you lad. It will never be the same without you’.

A fellow UCC student at the Sober Lane pub said last night: ‘I didn’t know Neil personally but one of my friends does and he says he was just a lovely guy.

‘He was one of those people who were very bright but also a great laugh.

‘He was always one for a bit of a joke and what happened was just one of those freak accidents.

‘Neil appears to have gone up on a wall and just misjudged the width and slipped in.

‘It’s a terrible thing. People who knew him are just shocked. Really shocked, as you can imagine.’

Last night, UCC Students’ Union deputy president Daithi Linnane said: ‘UCC Students’ Union are deeply saddened at the passing of a friend and classmate of so many of our students.

‘The thoughts and sympathy of UCC students are with the family and friends of the deceased at this difficult time.

‘Support is available from UCC’s Counselling and Development Office and from the UCC Chaplaincy Service and the Welfare Officer who can be reached at welfare@uccsu.ie.

A Garda spokesman said last night: ‘What happened was a total accident  and very sad altogether.

‘Apparently he was sitting on a wall and just fell backwards.

‘There was a very strong current that night and he was swept under very quickly.’

They added: ‘We would urge people to be very careful, particularly at this time of the year when rivers all over Ireland swell up.’

Originally from Gneeveguilla, just outside Rathmore, Co Kerry, he had attended Tureencahill National School followed by Rathmore Secondary School.

A former neighbour of the Scholarship student said last night: ‘He was a very, very bright guy.

‘He was expected to do very well with himself and his family had good reason to have high hopes for him.

‘They were always especially proud that he had won a scholarship to UCC.’

Neil is survived by father – plant hire boss Michael – mother Susan and 11-year-old brother Michael and 18-year-old sister Joanne.

They were last night being comforted by friends and family.

Parish priest Fr Larry Kelly, who visited the family yesterday afternoon, said last night: ‘Neil’s whole family are utterly devastated.

‘They are in a state of shock. Their whole world has been turned upside down by this.’

He said Neil, whose body arrived back at the family home just after 8pm last night before a 9pm rosary service, was a ‘very helpful sort of boy’.

He added: ‘There was never any bother on him.’

Neil’s removal will be at 8.15pm this evening and his funeral will be held the following day at 12.30 at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, Gneeveguilla.