DONEGAL FUNERALS: ‘Our hearts are heavy, but our spirits are strong’ – mourners in Creeslough told

Scottish connection underscored by photograph of Donegal explosion victim wearing Scotland and Celtic football jerseys

A lone piper led the way as Martin McGill's coffin was brought to St Michael's churchA lone piper led the way as Martin McGill’s coffin was brought to St Michael’s church.

The funeral has taken place of the second of the victims of the Creeslough explosion. Martin McGill, 49, was taken the short distance from his mother’s home to St Michael’s for Requiem Mass.

His cortège was led by a lone piper. His mother Mary, whom he cared for, and his sisters led the mourners.

Priest Fr John Joe Duffy said Martin McGill, who previously lived in Dunbartonshire and was a well known Celtic and Scotland supporter, had a “beautiful soul”. He’d been a generous warm-hearted person who lived to help others.

Martin McGill was among ten people who died in the explosion

The congregation heard that he’d have been in and out of the village shop where the explosion happened five or more times a day to run errands for neighbours.

He was also an avid Celtic fan and would have been proud to know that his club had made a large donation to the Creeslough appeal fund and worn black armbands in memory of the victims.

“Martin had a beautiful soul,” Fr John Joe Duffy said.

“He was a gentle soul, a person who you could the goodness flowing out of.”

His was the second funeral of the day. Just an hour earlier 24-year-old fashion designer Jessica Gallagher was laid to rest after mass at the same village church.

A devoted son who cared for his mother, Mr McGill had gone into the Applegreen garage to use the ATM when he was caught up in the explosion.

In his homily, Fr Duffy told mourners how Mr McGill was dedicated to caring for his beloved mother Mary.

“Martin was a carer who was filled with love, filled with kindness and compassion,” he said.

“Despite the awful, horrible tragedy that has struck at the very heart of this community, and broken our hearts, from the very first moment aren’t those the key words that have been in action in this community but have always been in action in this community.”

Fr Duffy said Mr McGill had now been reunited with his recently deceased father Joseph.

“His strength was in that he was a caring person,” he added.

“And the fact that he was a caring person, a person of kindness and compassion, gave him strength when he had to face bereavement and not very long ago when he had to say goodbye to his dad which was most difficult for him.”

This morning, mourners at the funeral Mass of Ms Gallagher, mourners heard that she “radiated a warm and positive feeling” to all who knew her well and left ripples of “love, affection, kindness and warmth” wherever she went.

The young fashion designer has been described by her family as someone who “lit up the room”.

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

At the beginning of the Mass, Fr Duffy expressed “sincere and heartfelt sympathies” to Ms Gallagher’s family.

“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.”

Fr Duffy described Ms Gallagher as a “jewel” of her family.

“While we cannot take that pain away for you, we want to walk with you,” he said.

“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.”

In his homily, Fr Duffy said Ms Gallagher “radiated a warm and positive feeling” to all who knew her well.

The priest said she left ripples of “love, affection, kindness and warmth” wherever she went.

“We are experiencing, you the family, are experiencing that most difficult challenge of all – the pain and hardship of having to say goodbye to Jessica today,” he said.

“That pain and hardship that other families are experiencing and I know that other families have been with you that have lost a loved one and those who have a loved one in hospital at this time.

“That pain has been felt in our parish and in our neighbouring parishes when the pathway in which Jessica and others were travelling through life was so abruptly ended by this tragic accident.

“I wish I as a priest could explain that more fully in a way that words could explain it, but we do not have words to explain it, for words would make no sense or couldn’t give it sense.

“I am part of you, part of this community, and it is together that we will make the journey and travel that journey going forward, supporting each other as so many people have been doing. Our entire community is hurting. Our hearts are heavy, but our spirits are strong.”

Fr Duffy said Donegal was always “in her heart”, despite her stints studying in Paris and Shanghai.

“No matter how far she travelled or progressed, the place she was proud of was her beautiful family home – her touchstone, her rock and her pillar,” he said.

Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian led the congregation in a prayer to end the funeral Mass.

Ms Gallagher, who should have started her new job in Belfast yesterday, will be buried at Doe Cemetery.

Jessica Gallagher’s coffin is taken from the church for burial at Doe Cemetery

The ten people who died were 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; Martin McGill, 49; Martina Martin, 49, and 59-year-old Hugh Kelly.

President Michael D Higgins is being represented at today’s funerals by his aide-de-camp.

The president will return from Strasbourg tonight and travel to Donegal tomorrow where he will attend the remaining funerals and meet relatives of all those killed in the tragedy as well as with members of the emergency services.

Ten people died in the explosion in Creeslough

Among those gathered in Creeslough this morning were Minister for Agriculture and Donegal TD Joe McHugh and Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill.

Local politician Joe McHugh arrives at St Michael’s Church

Fr Duffy said the grief in this community is only bearable through the support of others

Speaking ahead of the first funeral Mass, Fr Duffy said he spent some time at the scene this morning praying alongside a local garda and said they prayed for those who died, those who were injured and those who attended the scene and were impacted.

He said all the bereaved families want to send a message of thanks to all of those who helped in the effort last Friday after the explosion happened.

Fr John Joe Duffy said he is ‘one of the locals here’

“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.

Fr Duffy said messages of sympathy have been coming in from all around the world and this morning the Irish Defence Forces based in Lebanon held a mass for the community in Creeslough.

Bishop McGuckian said the community in Cresslough has been “extraordinary” under the 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 this terrible tragedy.”

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne, he said that after prayers on Saturday “there was a quiet and it was a deep quiet, people knowing that it was good for them to be gathered together in this awful moment. So, I thank God there’s been great depth as well as all of this sensitivity and respect”.

Bishop McGuckian said it is important for people to understand that “these are ordinary, poor people dealing with brokenness.

“We have to remember that just [to] be grateful that there is as much goodness and as much genuine community support as there is and not idealise it.”

Ten candles were lit in St Michael’s Church to remember those who died

Meanwhile, the Health and Wellbeing officer for St Michael’s GAA Club, said the club is a big part of the community in Cresslough and a lot of young people play football for the team as well.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Elaine McDaid said club members have been helping out on the ground at the scene of the explosion, as well as providing practical supports to neighbours and friends and was open last night to provide a place where people could come to talk about what they are feeling.

“And whether they just wanted to be with somebody or whether they wanted to get some professional help, and there are members of the psycho-social team that have been put in place at Cresslough since Saturday, there to offer their support and their guidance and provide information to anybody that needed it.”

Ms McDaid said that what seems to be helping “is having people coming together, talking, listening, just being together, is one of the most helpful things that people can do right now.”

She said people are “struggling to find the words of how they’re feeling and to describe, even put it into words.

“And so, what’s helping people is coming together being with one another, whether that be in silence or whether that having a chat and it’s helping everybody from every age group up to the elderly.”

The Government has agreed to extend the humanitarian assistance scheme to those affected by the Creeslough tragedy.

The fund is usually reserved for those affected by flooding.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys said payments would be means tested and would help people replace items lost or damaged.

Speaking on his way into a Cabinet meeting this morning, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said a large number of people will need psychological help in the time ahead and with the funerals beginning today, Cresslough “will very much in on our minds”.

Additional reporting Sinead Hussey, Dyane Connor, Sandra Hurley, PA

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