Honouring Kieran: Lessons to be learned in light of a tragedy

kieran mccann
Illustration: Genevieve Borrowdale-Cox

Anyone who was out on the night of Tuesday 27 January would agree that the town was in a state of complete chaos. It was only 10 pm, and yet the streets were already covered with evidence of excess drinking. Masses were trying to cram into The Vic and a sea of students had assembled outside Ma Bells. Hell, even the Students’ Union was packed.

In this disorder, a student vanished only to be discovered 38 hours later near the Scores. His name was Kieran McCann, and he was one of the most wonderfully absurd and totally ridiculous people I have ever had the privilege of calling a friend. To those who did not know him, his air of suave confidence and quick wit demanded admiration. For those close to him, his genuine compassion for others made him irreplaceable. It is near impossible to accept that someone with so much life is gone.

Despite his front of machismo, Kieran took care of his friends and consistently made sure that everyone was having a good time. He never backed down from a challenge and you knew that he would always have your back. Kieran’s blunt honesty and endlessly-understanding demeanor made him the best person to talk to when you had a problem. How seriously you took his advice, however, depended on how willing you were to embrace his unique, “no-bullshit” approach to life. Kieran truly meant so many things to so many people.

A testament to the relationships he formed during his short time at St Andrews was seen in the massive outpouring of effort to find him. Hundreds of students, friends and strangers alike, volunteered to join the search for him, as he would have done for anyone.

Kieran bettered the lives of all those he came into contact with. He inspired confidence, determination,and encouraged others to pack in every moment of life as fully as he did. However, another lesson must come from his passing. As one of the last people to see Kieran, I am as responsible as anyone for the way the night concluded.

Nobody thinks that when they see their friend walk away, it will be for the last time. Devastatingly, this is exactly what happened. Kieran truly exemplified what it meant to be there for others. It is now increasingly important that we embody that same virtue, and are there for our friends as he was for his. Being there for one another becomes especially important during wild nights out. As St Andrews is a small, and generally safe town, it makes sense that coming and going independently is the norm. However, there have been too many incidents of students disappearing for long periods of time without alarms being raised for us to let this continue.

Upon realisation of Kieran’s absence on Wednesday, we joked that he had met a cute blonde and reassured each other that he would be home shortly. And, in other circumstances, maybe that would have been the case.

Who knows if reporting his disappearance earlier would have made any bit of difference. It probably wouldn’t have. Yet, in some cases, those few extra hours can change everything. To encourage sobriety on this vaguely alcoholic campus would be entirely superfluous. Every university student is entitled to a few nights of reckless abandon, but if we are going to continue going out as often as we do, and to the level that we do, we have to agree to be responsible for one another.

The morning after a heavy night is not the time to be asking whether everyone made it home safely. Maybe it is time for us to bring the buddy-system back. Instead of a “designated driver,” maybe we should have a designated sober friend who makes sure everyone makes it home. Regardless of which method we chose to employ, the idea is the same: there is absolutely no reason that individual students, whether they are under the influence or not, should be by themselves at night. Every student on our campus is capable of making the decision to look out for the people they came with, and they should.

Unfortunately, the very cliffs that contribute to the charm and mystique of St Andrews, also present a very real danger. Since 2002, the cliffs, 60 feet above the sea, have been the cause of five other tragic deaths. Following two incidents in 2005 and 2006, the wall that obscured the view of the edge of the cliff was replaced by railings in attempts to make the site safer.

Unfortunately, the measures taken were not enough as in 2009 another first year student, Alex Wilson, fell into the sea on his way to a bonfire event. Following the terrible accident involving Wilson, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) commented on the nature of the cliffs, saying that further steps needed to be taken to increase awareness of the potentially dangerous nature of the cliffs amongst students. We, as young adults, know not to go near the cliffs at night, and when we are sober, we don’t. Yet, under the influence of alcohol, dangerous ideas that are generally brushed aside without a second thought, do not seem quite as ludicrous.

The University does tell us about the hazardous nature of the cliffs upon our arrival at accommodation in St Andrews, but is once enough? As a resident of David Russell Apartments, I vaguely remember the warning given by wardens in a speech book-ended by topics such as room keys and class sign-ups. As wardens stood on tables screaming, the advice to avoid the cliffs was barely heard over the roar of hundreds of bubbly first-years. It was certainly not taken seriously. In order for information of this gravity to be absorbed appropriately, students should be given the background of student deaths on the cliffs to emphasize the severity of the drop.

However, besides ensuring we are fully aware of potential risks, there is only so much that the University can do. In the early hours of the morning, it is up to us, as students, to ensure that this sentiment is remembered by our friends. Keeping in touch with your friends throughout the night will always do more good than harm. The amount of times I have heard people say they have “lost their friends” is unreasonable. Even if the only outcome of keeping in touch is your own peace of mind, it is still worth the effort to communicate with friends. So, if you do find that cute blonde, let your friends know you are leaving. You know you want to flaunt it anyway.

Although the Bubble is safe, being alone at night, even in the safest of places, is not. I don’t know why Kieran’s life had to be cut short, but what is clear to me is that we can learn from his death and create a safer school culture because of it.

Kieran packed in every minute of everyday with as much vitality as humanly possible and he had the ability to make mundane activities memorable. He had a rare energy and enthusiasm for life and for his friends. Accountability may not have made a difference for Kieran, but by valuing friendship and responsibility, we can both honour his memory and prevent future tragedies.


  1. Going to address two points:

    1. “Designated sober friend”? Well, this may be a jolly solution. Or, or, hear me out – have you tried not getting blackout sh**faced? Students in St Andrews have a serious drinking problem, which is getting worse with every year. PhD students, who have been in St Andrews for 8 years or longer, do say that student drinking was different back then – there was less pre-drinking, student used to go out at 6-7pm and not at 11pm. Even when I was a first year (I’m in 4th year now), much less emphasis was placed on getting as drunk as possible, as fast as possible. I am really not sure why has this become part of the student culture, often practiced in societies as well (Rocksock has really went downhill and is basically a bunch of emo alchies). One advice – if cannot drink responsibly, don’t drink, because not even a “sober pal” is going to help you.

    2. How many more talks on how not to kill yourself do you want? I am sorry, but this is just common sense. Cliffs are dangerous, don’t go jumping. Simple. I find it ridiculous that people in their 20s cannot/will not ensure their own safety, sober or drunk. I am honestly baffled by the lack of simple maturity in students – everything has to be spoon-fed and brought on a silver plate, because “they’re just 21”. You are grown up enough (or at least should be), and you are responsible for your own life and safety. Endless talks on safety are a ridiculous request, and I doubt are going to be remembered by drunk students. Circling back to point 1 – don’t get drunk to the point where you cannot comprehend that cliffs are dangerous.

    This may sound like a brutal comment, and it is, because it is frustrating to see students wasting their lives, when it could be so easily prevented. What angers me even more, is this article, which basically blames everyone and everything else for the guys death. It is a tragedy and my heart goes to his family, but for christs sake, guys, wake up! Take control of your lives!

    • Deborah, please have some respect and talk about this with someone else and somewhere else, where such arrogant behaviour can be tolerated. A young boy passed away, that is a tragedy and this article is truly touching.

    • Deborah, it’s ridiculous that you would even reply on a memorial in such an ignorant way. You clearly didn’t know him and you clearly don’t know the entire story. I’m not going to bother to inform you about it because you’ll just come up with some other arrogant response, but there’s a time and a place for everything, something that you clearly don’t understand. Have some respect. You’ve ruined this entire memorial, so thank you for making me angry when I’m reading about someone I loved that I lost. And, “my heart goes out to his family,” yeah, because that’s really sincere after spending two paragraphs to make a point out of someone who died. Take your points to someone else, don’t just rant about it on someone’s reflection of their friend. Thanks a lot for enlightening us that drinking isn’t a genius idea.

  2. Deborah, you might be angry at what you consider to be a drinking problem but coming on to someone’s memorial of their friend just to spew vitriol is kind of disgusting. You might have those opinions and that’s fine but you might want to consider the forum in which you choose to stand on your soap box. You may have a good message but instead you seem callous and rude. A friend of the author has DIED and you are turning this tragedy into a way for you to “get a point across”. Have some respect and grow up.

  3. This is a touching and sweet memorial. Alison, I’m so sorry for your loss. My heart goes out to you, and to all of Kieran’s friends and family.

  4. My heart goes out to all of Kieran’s family and friends. I can not even begin to imagine the emotions they must be going through. If anyone has the time, please pass by a make-shift memorial opposite Ma Bells and pay your respects.

    Let this tragedy be a reminder for friends to look after one another on a night out. I only wish that he would have been surrounded by more responsible friends.

    RIP Kieran.


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