Investigations under way into deaths of Leaving Cert students in Greece as ‘traumatised’ pupils eager to return home

St Michael’s prepares supports as past pupils cut holiday short after deaths of Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall

Extensive support services are being put in place for pupils of St Michael’s College in south Dublin following the death of two of its Leaving Certificate students on the Greek island of Ios over the weekend.

Two separate investigations are under way into the deaths of Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall, both aged 18, who are understood to have flown out late last week.

It appears Mr O’Donnell, whose remains were discovered on rocky ground on Sunday morning, had suffered a tragic accident on the way home from a night out. His body showed signs of having fallen but it was unclear whether the fall had been from a height.

Separately, Mr Wall was found unconscious near the island’s port at about 2pm. Postmortem examinations are due in the coming days.


It is understood Mr Wall previously had health issues with his heart, with one source confirming he had a successful heart operation around three years ago. It is likely the postmortem examination, which will take place in Athens will investigate whether these prior health issues could have been a contributory factor in his death.

The students were among up to 90 from St Michael’s College who had flown out to celebrate the end of their Leaving Certificate exams in what has become an annual rite of passage. They are understood to have been on the island with hundreds of other Irish students from different schools.

St Michael’s principal Tim Kelleher said a number of parents were now on the island supporting students eager to return home. The parents of both Mr O’Donnell and Mr Wall have also travelled out.

Mr Kelleher explained that news of the deaths had spread quickly among fellow students.

“They all want to leave. They were traumatised … and people were saying ‘I want to get home’,” he said.

“A lot of these kids all know one another. They’re all south Dublin, there are the kinds of family ties and friendship ties; these kids would have all known one another growing up essentially. There are hundreds of them out there at the moment, I think, just finding their way off the island. It’s a very sombre place I think, for kids to be.”

Mr Kelleher, who is preparing for the students’ return this week, said many of them remained together on the island on Monday morning, supported by parents. The Department of Foreign Affairs also had a consular representative on the ground.

“Some of the boys are actually staying on just to be a support to the families that are gone out to identify the remains and bring them home.”

He said the parents of the deceased, whom he had spoken to by phone, had been resilient in the face of the tragedy.

“When I spoke to them yesterday they were so strong, so resilient, so concerned for the boys that are out there and the trauma and the drama that they’re going through. They have been an absolute rock and an example to us all really.”

Andrew O’Donnell, who was from the Sandymount-Ringsend area of Dublin, was a keen rugby player and one of the stars of the school’s soccer team, described by Mr Kelleher as gregarious and fun.

He said Mr Wall was a big rugby supporter “steeped in rugby tradition of Leinster rugby and St Michael’s rugby”, gifted academically and “with the world at his feet”.

“[They were] really bright, really smart guys. They do very well in their exams, sporting, full of life, just full of life. Just looking forward to the years ahead.”

Mr O’Donnell’s younger brother is also a student at St Michael’s while Mr Wall’s older brother had previously graduated.

As the investigations continue in Greece, and preparations are made to repatriate the boys’ remains, immediate focus in now turning to ensuring the remaining pupils get home to avail of various support services in their school community.

Flights home from Athens, or possibly the island of Santorini, are the most likely routes. Most students have arrangements made and will leave on Wednesday, although some will leave on Tuesday. The majority are expected home by Thursday.

Once home, comprehensive support services will be on hand to meet them at the school which will remain open. A book of condolences was opened on Monday morning.

National psychological services have been in touch with the school while its own chaplaincy team and other supports are already in place. A range of councillors have also offered their services, including psychotherapists.

A memorial ceremony is planned for about Thursday once everyone has returned home.

“Whatever is needed. We have a very robust student support system in the school. We will be organising things throughout the week for anybody who might find it difficult to process all of this,” Mr Kelleher said.

“A lot of these guys have been in the school since the age of four. So it’s their school, parish, club, it’s everything to them. This is where they go; this is where they turn to in their time of need.

“They have ties and strengths and bonds that kind of take them throughout their lives. Lots of past pupils would be very close to one another as well. So this has actually rocketed through, not just the present pupils, but past pupils as well.”

Gary Ruddock, a co-owner of the Life Is A Beach Party travel company that had booked various aspects of the holiday for hundreds of Leaving Cert students this year, said local businesses on the island had rallied, with many events cancelled in the immediate aftermath.

The company, which sells a variety of travel packages and discount wristbands on the predominantly party-orientated island, alerted its customers on Sunday to “schedule changes”.

Although temporarily closing its premises, it said “our doors are open to any LC (Leaving Cert) students who would like a cold air conditioned room upstairs with some privacy”.

“We are here for any person from Ireland regardless of if they have booked with us if they need any help with anything in the coming days,” the message read.

Mr Ruddock said he had met Max Wall before his death, who, along with friends had been attempting to print off information on the then-missing Andrew O’Donnell.

“From the brief, brief encounter I had with him, a lovely guy,” he said, expressing the company’s sympathies with the family and those affected by the double tragedy. He also praised the collective response of the St Michael’s group on the island.

Mr Ruddock said Ios had been a popular destination this year for students from south Dublin private schools, in what is a relatively more expensive resort than elsewhere.

Of Life Is A Beach Party’s approximately 3,000 customers for the season, about 800 were Leaving Certificate students, including some of those from St Michael’s College.

“It’s a tough place to be at the moment,” Mr Ruddock said. “In my eight years on Ios I have never seen anything like this.”

One parent of a Leaving Cert student who is on Ios, but who did not know either of the deceased or their school friends, explained how news of the incidents had reverberated around the island.

“They heard someone was missing. He said they were shocked and upset when the boy’s body was found,” the mother said, requesting anonymity.

“Although Ios is in Europe, when you hear news like that you realise how far away a Greek island is from us, how long it takes to get there. And how far away all those Irish teenagers seem now, dealing with this. My heart goes out to those poor parents on that long trek, after the worst news you could get.”

Tánaiste Micheál Martin urged students at St Michael’s College to look after each other in the difficult days ahead.

Mr Martin, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that the Department of Foreign Affairs will provide consular assistance on a 24/7 basis with a consular officer on the ground and with the families to offer support. The department had been in contact with the school and the Greek police

“Essentially we’re there to provide whatever support we can now in these very, very sad days because it’s devastating. It’s the most traumatic news that any parent could hear and is every parent’s nightmare. Many of our sons and daughters go abroad after the Leaving Cert, after exams. Our officials and our department is there to help and to offer support when terribly, terribly sad events like this occur,” he said.

“As the principal said, this is the darkest of times for the college and for the students. If any student needs assistance, we would ask them to contact our embassy. If people require any assistance whatsoever we are going to provide it. I would say to the young people to look after each other, to be with each other over these coming days, and particularly in Ios. And obviously many will want to come back and are making plans to come back. And again, we will work with all the authorities to make sure we can do that.”

St Michael’s College past pupils union president Tom McCormack said the school in Ballsbridge is distinguished by a “sense of community” that will rally around the families and friends of the two ex-students.

“Our thoughts are with the families and the boys of the class of 2023 who were celebrating what should be their next step in their careers. It was a devastating day,” he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Map showing the Greek island of Ios

“We’ve been heartened by the huge volume of messages of support from government ministers, councillors, senators and other schools. Our sister school, St Mary’s, eight years ago suffered the Berkeley tragedy. And we are now experiencing our darkest day and our sincere thanks to everybody who has come through primarily on social media over the last 24 hours when news of Andrew’s body first broke and then a few hours later we heard that Max had passed away in hospital.”

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said it was aware of the cases and providing consular assistance.

Kate O’Callaghan Zakheou, originally from Co Cork, owns the Sweet Irish Dream club on Ios with her husband Dimitris. “It’s just devastating. Everyone is absolutely devastated,” she said on Sunday. “We are not opening tonight as a mark of respect.”

Another bar owner, also Irish but who did not want to be named, said he had been comforting friends of the two boys.

“There are about a thousand Irish young people on the island at the moment. I have been helping them contact their families, the embassy. Everyone, the whole island, is in deep shock.”

Minister of State at the Department of Education, Josepha Madigan, whose son is in Ios, tweeted that she had met Max Wall at a Leinster match, and that both young men had their whole lives ahead of them.

In a statement, the Greece-based Greek-Irish Society said: “On behalf of its membership and the Irish community in Greece in general, the committee of the Greek-Irish Society extends its deepest condolences to the parents, families, classmates and friends of Andrew O’Donnell and Max Wall on their sad deaths over the weekend on the island of Ios.

“The pain of their loss is compounded by the fact that their deaths took place far away from home. As Irish people who have made this country our home, we are particularly saddened that so many young Irish people will now be returning home with feelings of deep pain and loss.”

One student who is still on Ios described seeing messages about Andrew O’Donnell, who was then missing, via Snapchat Stories and Insta Stories.

“Everyone was so shocked,” he said, regarding the later emergence of his death.

“I’ve seen [St] Michael’s lads and talked to them. They’re really sad. I think a lot of them have gone home. It was two of their mates, in the same friend group.

“People aren’t gathering. Everyone is still in shock, it still doesn’t feel real. Someone my age dying, so close-by, the same vicinity, on the same holiday. They had their lives to look forward to.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times