Ten red candles will continue to burn on the altar at St Michael’s Church in Creeslough throughout the week, one for each victim of a huge explosion that partially destroyed a local petrol station and surrounding buildings on Friday.
Residents of the small north Co Donegal village will return to schools and workplaces on Monday morning with the massive rescue effort that brought it to a standstill over the weekend, a Garda investigation underway and a number of funerals to come.
The first will be Jessica Gallagher (24) in St. Michael’s Church, Creeslough Tuesday at 11.00 followed by Martin McGill (49), who will be buried after the funeral mass at 14.00 in the same church. James O’Flaherty (48), a married father of one originally from Sydney, Australia but living in Dunfanaghy, will be laid to rest after a funeral on Wednesday at St Mary’s Church in Bunbeg.
The explosion at the Applegreen service station, which shocked and confused the close-knit community, also claimed the lives of Catherine O’Donnell (39) and her son James Monaghan (13), Martin McGill (49), Jessica Gallagher (24). ), Martina Martin (49), Hugh Kelly (59), Leona Harper (14), Robert Garwe (50) and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe.
Shauna was a pupil at Scoil Mhuire in the village, where teachers and headteacher John O’Doherty met yesterday to prepare support for the returning pupils. Other victims were former students from the small school.
The teenage victims, James and Leona, were students at Mulroy College in Milford, while Catherine O’Donnell and Martina Martin have children who attend the school. The college has published information on supporting children trying to understand grief on its website.
Jessica Gallagher, a fashion designer, was due to start a new job in Belfast today. Her boyfriend, who she was visiting at his flat in the complex, was airlifted to St James’s Hospital in Dublin, where he remains in the specialist burns unit. Seven others were injured in the blast.
The scene where it happened remained cordoned off last night as Gardaí continued a careful forensic investigation.
The cause of the explosion has not yet been determined. A focus of the investigation was a store of gas used for heating at the back of the premises.
Emergency services explained that the rescue efforts from Friday to Saturday were slowed by the danger of possible further collapse and explosion, given the presence of fuel at the site.
The Irish Red Cross has set up a fund to help the community in Creeslough. The fund is established with support from Applegreen and An Post. The public can make donations at www.redcross.ie. The site will go live later on Monday.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin visited the village at the weekend and President Michael D Higgins is expected in Creeslough early this week.
The Rosary is said at 10 p.m. every evening this week in St. Michael’s Church, where the red lights that commemorate the deceased burn. A number of vigils have and will continue to take place across the county.
“There is a powerful thing in coming together,” said Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian. “There’s something about the depth of the experience these people are going through that it’s okay to be quiet, and it’s good to be quiet with other people.”
Creeslough petrol station before and after the explosion
He said the “randomness” of Friday’s tragedy was deeply disturbing to everyone. “It scares us all deep down, that feeling that it could have been me, it could have been someone I love. We’re alive, our lives are fragile, they’re fragile.”
People leaving a mass led by the bishop on Saturday were reluctant to speak, but those who did all spoke of hurt, shock and trauma.
“I knew most of them,” said a man in his 30s. “It’s hard when it comes to home, right next to where you grew up. It’s completely random. Anyone could have been there.”
An elderly man, visibly upset, said he had lost neighbors and friends. “It could have been my wife,” he said. “She was the last one to leave the box. She wouldn’t have been 60 meters away when it exploded.”
Among those who arrived to help were two NHS doctors on a weekend away. Dr. Maria Walls, a general medical senior house officer (SHO) at Altnagelvin Hospital, Derry and Dr. Kerry Bowsie, a surgical SHO at Craigavon hospital, was in the Muck n Muffins cafe in Dunfanaghy when they heard about the explosion.
They helped set up one of the triage stations’ ambulances and were there from 4pm on Friday until 8am on Saturday.
“We were ready to assess people, but unfortunately already at that time there was unfortunately only one more person who was brought out injured,” said Dr. Walls.
“As the night went on it seemed less likely that we would get anyone else out alive, but you kind of held on to the hope that maybe there was someone in a pocket that was protected, maybe there was something we could do .”