Clannad founder Noel Duggan died of asphyxiation after choking on garlic bread

Inquest told incident happened while musician was having food and drinks with friends at pub near his Co Donegal home

Musician Noel Duggan died of asphyxiation after choking on a piece of garlic bread while out socialising with friends, an inquest has heard.

The 73-year-old, a founding member of Clannad in 1970, took ill while dining at Casadh an tSúgáin in Loughanure, Co Donegal on the evening of October 15th, 2022.

Donegal County Coroner Dr Denis McCauley heard that friends, restaurant staff and later paramedics tried to save Mr Duggan but were unable to.

John Sweeney, a friend of Mr Duggan, told the inquest he met Mr Duggan at about 2pm that day for drinks in a pub and they decided to have food at about 6pm after being joined by two more friends.


He said Mr Duggan began to gasp for air and suddenly slumped forward in his chair shortly after he began eating his starter. The manager of the restaurant was called and he tried to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on Mr Duggan, who lived nearby at Teach Neili Beag, Loughanure, but this did not work.

Mr Sweeney said waitress Bríd Sweeney began performing CPR on Mr Duggan while taking directions over the phone from emergency service staff.

A statement read out on behalf of Brian Ferry, assistant chief ambulance officer, stated he was off-duty but was called to the scene and found Ms Sweeney performing CPR on Mr Duggan.

Mr Ferry said an obstruction, which he thought was a piece of garlic bread, was removed from Mr Duggan’s throat. Paramedics continued to work on the musician and cardiac drugs were administered but to no avail.

Columba Duggan, a brother of the deceased, told the inquest he was called to the pub and identified the victim as Noel Duggan at 8.42pm.

Dungloe-based Garda Dermot Gallen said he received a report of a choking incident at a public house in Loughanure at 7.10pm. He went to the scene and spoke to Mr Ferry. Garda Gallen said he obtained CCTV footage from the pub. Asked by the coroner if it had simply been an unfortunate choking incident, Garda Gallen agreed.

Pathologist Dr Gerry O’Dowd said a postmortem showed Mr Duggan had multiple small haemorrhages on both lungs, which was consistent with death from asphyxiation. The examination showed the deceased only had one kidney, coronary artery disease and was being treated for high blood pressure, he said.

Tests showed that Mr Duggan had a level of alcohol in his system that was five times the drink-driving limit, Dr McCauley said. He asked Dr O’Dowd if this would make a person more likely to choke and was told it could hamper reflexes, including swallowing, and their ability to protect their airways would not function as well as that of someone who had not been drinking.

“This was an accident but that level of alcohol made it more likely to happen,” the coroner said.  

He noted the cause of death as asphyxiation secondary to a blockage of the airways by food in association with a high blood-alcohol level. He recorded a finding of death by misadventure.

Dr McCauley and Garda Sgt Fergus McGroary offered their sympathies to the family and friends of Mr Duggan, who is survived by his sister Máire Brennan, brothers Eoin and Columba, nieces Moya and Enya, and nephews Pól and Ciarán.