Much-loved teacher and footballer sent triumphant mountain-top selfie to family…then tragedy struck

A popular school teacher and semi-professional footballer died after climbing a mountain alone, an inquest has heard. Atherton Town centre back Kieran Halliwell, 35, was discovered unresponsive on a ‘steep section’ of Mweelrea, in Co Mayo, Ireland, on August 18 2021.

During a documentary inquest at Bolton Coroners Court, senior coroner Timothy Brennand read a number of statements in the hearing, including one from Kieran’s father Robert Halliwell. Mr Halliwell described Kieran as his “best friend” and told the court that he was “very experienced” in climbing mountains.

In August, Kieran joined a family holiday in Ireland but decided to stay in the country when everyone else went home, so that he could climb Mweelrea and then meet up with some friends from university. A friend named Daniel Sammon was the last person to see Kieran alive, the inquest heard.

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In a statement, Mr Sammon said that he advised Kieran that climbing the mountain alone would be “dangerous” for someone who had never done it before. Mr Sammon saw Kieran again just before he climbed Mweelrea and said he was “in good form” as he left. When Kieran set off, the mountain was clearly visible but cloud was covering the top half, Mr Sammon noted.

Kieran played for Atherton Town F.C.
Kieran played for Atherton Town F.C.

On August 16, Kieran sent a WhatsApp message to his mum Mary Halliwell, telling her that he reached the top, alongside a photograph.

“We texted him back saying that it looked misty behind him,” Mr Halliwell said. “We didn’t receive a reply.”

After more time passed and they arrived home in Manchester, a worried Mr and Mrs Halliwell reported Kieran as missing to the Garda (Irish police). They also travelled back to Ireland and arrived at 4am on August 18.

A huge search effort included helicopters, drones, and dogs, the court heard. Tragically, Kieran’s body was found at “around tea time”, Mr Halliwell said.

“We were shocked and devastated. We were ashen, we’d lost our son.

“We really don’t know what happened on the mountain or the distance he fell but can only assume he slipped.”

Following a post mortem, Dr Tamas Nemeth recorded ‘lung haemorrhage due to lung contusion and puncture due to traumatic chest injury’ as the cause of death. No medical episodes were implicated in Kieran’s death, the inquest heard.

In his touching statement, Mr Halliwell confirmed that Kieran was born in Billinge and grew up in Leigh. After graduating from university with a Masters degree in English, he became a teaching assistant at Manchester University Hospital, working with terminally ill children.

“He loved his work and found it really rewarding,” Mr Halliwell said.

“He was so well regarded that he was often invited to the homes of children he was caring for by their parents. They loved him and he reciprocated that affection.”

At the time of his death, Kieran was working as the head of English at New Park School in Eccles and was living in Urmston, Mr Halliwell confirmed.

Bolton Coroners Court

“I’m devastated,” Mr Halliwell added.

“I’ve lost my best friend. We did everything together.”

Mr Brennand recorded a conclusion of ‘accident’. He said: “I don’t want my conclusions to be misconstrued as me taking a critical view or that I believe this was an ill-judged attempt on a challenging mountain.

“He was fit, experienced and well equipped. Therefore, this is just one of the tragedies that can befall any mountaineer in any circumstances at any time.

“Kieran died pursuing one of his many pastimes. Kieran died living life to the full. That simply serves to emphasise the sense of loss in this case. I hope it’s of some comfort to the family and friends of the deceased.

“In his short life, Kieran gave to others the advantage of his wealth of experience, intelligence and inspiration. I am truly sorry for their loss and convey my condolences to them.”

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