Hundreds attend vigil for 10 killed in explosion at petrol station in Donegal

A huge candlelit vigil has been held in Ireland for the 10 people who died in an explosion at a petrol station, as grieving families prepare for the first funerals to take place.

Photographs of those killed in the County Donegal village of Creeslough were laid alongside candles in the middle of Market Square in the nearby town of Letterkenny, where mourners heard prayers and observed a moment of silence.

The event was organised by a community group as a show of support to the families of those killed or injured, with co-organiser Gerry McMonagle saying: “I think this is what people need after such a tragedy to try and process it.

“This was an awful incident. I think the randomness of it, it could have happened to any one of us, and that brought it home to people,” said Mr McMonagle, a director of the Letterkenny Community Development Project.

The mood in Letterkenny has been very sombre, he said, since the blast at the Applegreen service station on Friday, which buried some of those killed under rubble and left eight survivors with injuries, including a man in his 20s who was in a critical condition.

“In this crowd tonight, everyone will know someone who was affected by this, it is such a tight-knit community, when one hurts we all hurt,” said Mr McMonagle. “That’s why we’re all here tonight in solidarity and sympathy with those families.”

Ireland’s police force, An Garda Siochana, continues to investigate the cause of the blast in the building complex which included the service station and convenience store, and residential apartments.

It is being treated as a “tragic accident”, with some speculation around the theory of a gas leak.


The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, visited Creeslough on Monday, and said he was “stunned by the tragic and horrific” explosion.

“I wanted to come here to express my concern, my love for the people here and also our deep gratitude to so many people who helped particularly on Friday evening and on Saturday to try to do what they could to recover, to rescue and to comfort all of those who are grieving or were injured,” he said.

People attend the vigil at Market Square in Letterkenny

(Liam McBurney/PA Wire )

Those killed in the blast were five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her 50-year-old father Robert Garwe, who were in the shop to buy a birthday cake; 48-year-old James O’Flaherty; 49-year-old Martin McGill; 39-year-old Catherine O’Donnell and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan; 59-year-old Hugh Kelly; 49-year-old Martina Martin; 14-year-old Leona Harper; and Jessica Gallagher, aged 24.

Village GP, Dr Paul Stewart, described it as “the worst tragedy we have ever had” as he warned that the death toll could have been twice as high if the blast had happened five minutes earlier – with a group of school children having been sat on a wall of the complex just before it was buried by falling rubble.

“I was at the scene an hour after the explosion. I grew up in the north during the Troubles, and it was like a bomb exploded and it reminded me of scenes we had in the 1970s,” he told BBC Radio Ulster on Monday.

(Top row, left to right) Leona Harper, Robert Garwe, Shauna Flanagan Garwe, Jessica Gallagher, and James O’Flaherty, and (bottom row, left to right) Martina Martin, Hugh Kelly, Catherine O’Donnell, her son James Monaghan, and Martin McGill

(An Garda Siochana /PA Wire )

One girl trapped behind the counter who was taken to hospital was able to “tell rescuers who was at the till in front of her and those poor souls took the brunt of it”, he said. “The top two floors came into the shop. The back of the shop was blown out as well, so some people were able to escape through the back.

Praising the “heroic” efforts of those in the community, he said: “There were local people tearing at the rubble and forming human chains and handing blocks to each other.”

Hugh Harper said his 14-year-old daughter Leona would be “very sorely missed”, as it emerged that she was the last of the 10 people killed to be found amid the ruins of the blast site.

“Leona was a little gem, very outgoing, very friendly, a lovely person, very quiet, laid back, loved life, loved the outdoors, walking through fields, going fishing, spending time with friends, going to car shows,” Mr Harper told Highland Radio.

Leona’s mother Donna thanked the digger driver who found her body after a 24-hour search, saying: “I didn’t personally know the digger driver – a massive thank you to him because he just didn’t stop until he got her.”

Emergency services attend the scene following the blast

(Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

The first of the funeral services, of Ms Gallagher and Mr McGill, will take place on Tuesday at St Michael’s Church.

Mr O’Flaherty’s funeral will be in St Mary’s Church in Derrybeg on Wednesday morning, while a joint service will be held for Ms O’Donnell and her son James at St Michael’s in Creeslough on Wednesday afternoon.

On Monday, nurses from Letterkenny hospital lined the road as the remains of Mr O’Flaherty – whose wife Tracey is a nurse – were taken from a chapel in the town ahead of his funeral.

Local priest, Father John Joe Duffy, said people in the town are “full of grief”, with the initial numbness, shock and adrenaline “beginning to wear off” as the enormity of the tragedy becomes “clearer and clearer”.

“As the first victim of the tragedy was brought home you saw people along the road and candles being lit along the road, and when you saw a beautiful young person coming home … it just began more and more to dawn on people,” he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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