Jessica Gallagher and Martin McGill (C: Family via Gardai)

‘We do not have the words’: First funerals of 10 Creeslough victims held 

The small town of Creeslough in Donegal today faces the agonising task of burying the victims of Friday’s gas explosion. The town of just 400 people will lay to rest 10 of their loved ones, with the first funerals taking place today. 

Mourners have this morning gathered in the Donegal town for the first of ten funerals, as the funeral of 24-year-old Jessica Gallagher is underway at St Michael’s church in the village. The beautiful young fashion designer had been due to start her dream job in Belfast this Monday, after graduating from university in Paris. The talented designer was described as someone who “lit up the room” and loved her home. 

Her first piece of commissioned work, which was almost finished, was brought up during the offertory.  

Parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy expressed his “sincere and heartfelt sympathies” to Ms Gallagher’s family as he told mourners “we do not have the words” to explain the deaths of the 10 local people.

“We would love to be able to put in our hands to your hearts and take away that grief and that pain that you are suffering this morning,” he said.

“But to even think of that would not be a sensible thing to do. Because in that void, in that grief, there you hold in your hearts Jessica.”

He said Ms Gallagher was a “jewel” to her family, telling them: 

“While we cannot take that pain away for you, we want to walk with you. We cannot feel your pain but we will walk with you in that pain because to even say that we feel that pain would not be right or not be fair to you, but we walk in that pain.

“The greater someone is loved, the greater that pain and that pain is so immense, and Jessica will forever remain in your heart, but she will also be with you, she will remain with you.” 

Ms Gallagher will be laid to rest after 11am Mass.

The funeral of another victim of the devastating blast, 49-year-old Martin McGill, will also be held at St Michael’s Church this afternoon.

Tributes have poured in for the “gentle soul” who was killed as he took money from the ATM at the Appleg Green petrol station after ordering a takeaway across the road. 

Described as a “lovely man,” he was a devoted son who lived with his elderly mother who he cared for. 

His death notice read: “The tragic death has occurred, in Creeslough, of Martin McGill. Sadly missed by his mother Mary, sisters Marie Louise and Caroline, brothers-in-law, Mathew and Iain, nieces and nephews and extended family and friends. Predeceased by his father Joseph.”

His funeral mass will be held on Tuesday, October 11 at 2:00 pm in St Michael’s Church, Creeslough with his burial afterwards in Doe Cemetery.

Martin passed away alongside Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan; Robert Garwe, 50, and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe; 14-year-old Leona Harper; Jessica Gallagher, 24; James O’Flaherty, 48; Martina Martin, 49, and 59-year-old Hugh Kelly.

 

President Michael D Higgins will be represented at today’s funerals by his aide-de-camp. President Higgins will come home from Strasbourg tonight, and will be in Donegal tomorrow to attend the remaining funerals and meet the relatives of those killed in the tragedy, along with members of the emergency services. 

Fr John Joe Duffy said the grief in the small community will only be made bearable through the support of others. Speaking ahead of the first funeral mass, the parish priest said he spent some time at the scene of the accident this morning in prayer, alongside a local garda. He said he prayed for those who died, those who were injured, and those who attended the scene and were impacted by the tragedy.

He said all the grieving families of those killed want to send a message of thanks to those who helped in the effort last Friday.

“There are no words and I’m trying to find words this morning. I’m one of the locals here. I am one of the people, I’m just ordinary, I may wear this collar but I’m struggling to find words” he said.

“There will be difficult days ahead, there will be hard days ahead,” Fr Duffy said.

“All we can pray for is through the help of everyone that people will get through this, but I am worried for people,” he said.

He said that messages of sympathy have poured in from across this world, and that this morning, the Irish Defence Forces based in Lebanon celebrated mass for the community of Creeslough.

Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian said the community have been “extraordinary” under the heart-breaking circumstances.

“It’s a remarkable community, so small. 300 or 400 people where everyone will have a relation or at least a very close relation of one, at least and maybe in many cases more of those who have died in this terrible tragedy.”

The third night of candlelit vigils took place for the victims across the north west last night, as the close-knit community tries to come to terms with the unprecedented scale of loss. At a vigil in Letterkenny, photographs of the deceased were placed in Market Square, while separate vigils were held across Donegal as well as in the Guildhall Square in Derry.

On Sunday, moving footage captured a song being performed as a crowd gathered to pray for the victims as people grappled with their loss:

 

Leona Harper, 14, will be buried on Thursday. Her devastated family described her as “a little gem,” as they thanked the digger driver who located her body after a 24-hour-search. 

“A massive thank you to him because he just didn’t stop until he got her,” Donna Harper told Highland Radio.

“Twenty-four hours before we got her and she was the last taken out. The doctors and everything, everybody was amazing the way they treated the whole scene from start to finish with nothing more than respect.”

The youngest victim of the explosion was Shauna Flanagan Garwe, 5, who died alongside her father, Robert Garwe, 50. The father and his small daughter had visited the shop after school to buy a birthday cake for Shauna’s mum. Shauna was described as a “playful, energetic little girl” who always asked for a lollipop by local pharmacist Fergus Brennan. The little girl had just started school, and was pictured smiling in her uniform in a recent photo taken at the school gates. On Monday, a toy unicorn was placed on her empty seat at school, as parents try and explain her absence to her young classmates.

Eight people remain in hospital, while an investigation into the cause of the explosion is ongoing. 

Speaking outside St Michael’s Church before Mass this morning, Creeslough resident Majella Russell said that “10 beautiful souls have gone to heaven”.

Ms Russell, whose niece worked in the shop, said church services had been packed as “we just have to pray and be with each other”. 

“All we have is our faith, our faith will get us through,” she said.

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