Families and communities of Creeslough tragedy are ‘lost in a fog of grief’

Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The families and communities impacted by the Creeslough explosion are “lost in a fog of grief” and painful sadness, the funeral of 14-year-old Leona Harper has been told.

The teenager, who had been in the service station to buy ice-cream, was one of the 10 people killed in the blast in Co Donegal.

Mourners at her funeral heard how her parents, Hugh and Donna, talked of their daughter as a “gem” that shone brightly.

Her funeral took place at St Mary’s Church in Ramelton, Co Donegal.

Earlier on Thursday, mother-of-four Martina Martin was also laid to rest, with Fr John Joe Duffy saying the shop worker had an “abundance of love”.

Their funerals marked the sixth and seventh victims of the Creeslough tragedy to be buried.

The funeral of Leona, who was a talented rugby player and sister to two older brothers, Anthony and Jamie, heard how her sudden death has left all those who knew and loved her “shell-shocked and grief-stricken”.

Father Michael Carney told the congregation: “Gems shine, gems sparkle and gems attract us.

“Leona shone brightly and beautifully throughout her short life, sparkled with energy and fun and attracted so many friends to her circle.”

Family members and mourners help carry the coffin of 14-year-old Leona Harper as it arrives at St Mary’s Church in Ramelton, Co Donegal. Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

Fr Carney described Leona as a “little lady with a big heart who lived a full life”.

“As with most 14-year-olds, there were four important anchors in her life: her family, her friends, her hobbies and her school,” he said.

A Liverpool FC flag is flown as members of Letterkenny Rugby Club join mourners outside St Mary’s Church for the funeral of Leona Harper Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

“They were at once separate and all interconnected.

“Hugh and Donna talk of their daughter as their little miracle – and therein lies a story … when Anthony was born, Donna was told that there was no prospect of her conceiving another child. But seven years later something unexpected happened: Leona arrived, hence the little miracle.”

Sarah McLachlan’s song Angel was played as her coffin was led to the altar.

Students from Scoil Mhuire and Mulroy College in Milford, which Leona had attended, formed a guard of honour as her coffin was led into and out of the church.

Fr Carney said Leona’s interests and pursuits were “many, varied and indeed surprising”.

“She was into her music and dance and was developing an eye for hair and fashion,” the priest said.

“But there was so much more. What I really love to hear, she loved the outdoors. She fished, she hunted and she said to her dad, just not so long ago, ‘When are we going hunting again?’

“She loved the peace and serenity of Gartan lake. A love of animals developed into an appreciation for farming and agriculture – and a passion for tractors.

“She was beginning to figure in her rugby club as a gifted player. And like many girls, the exploits and success of Kelly Harrington and Katie Taylor had sparked an interest in boxing.

“And, I won’t hold this against her, Liverpool was her team.”

The teen was also described as gentle and kind but was “no shrinking violet”.

The priest recalled how she was feisty and had a “lovely level”.

“She could speak her mind and speak for others in that gentle but insistent way that always gets the attention of the grown-ups,” Fr Carney added.

“She stood up for those who could not stand up for themselves. She had maturity beyond her years and a deeply caring way.”

Before her funeral Mass concluded there was a round of applause after Fr Carney, on behalf of Leona’s mother, thanked the digger driver for his work in the hours after the explosion to help find Leona’s body.

President Michael D Higgins and the Taoiseach’s aide-de-camp were among those who attended the service for Leona and Mrs Martin.

Mrs Martin, 49, was working in the shop when the explosion took place at a service station in the rural Co Donegal village.

Her family walked behind the hearse as it arrived at St Michael’s Church in Creeslough on Thursday morning.

Crowds once again lined the streets and gathered at the entrance to the church to say goodbye to another member of their community.

Her co-workers provided a guard of honour as her coffin was brought into the church.

Representatives of Mulroy College, which two of her children attend, were also part of the honour guard.

“Martina had an abundance of love,” Fr John Joe Duffy told the congregation.

“She was sensitive to the needs of others and to those who are sensitive to the needs of others, life offers innumerable opportunities to practise the commandment of love.

“Real love requires hard work and patience. It requires doing up rotas on a board in the kitchen of the house telling you, the children, what your tasks are; emptying the bins, which I’m sure you did without fail.

“Putting out the bins, washing the dishes, which I’m sure great care was given to, and taking Dusty, Sophie and Junior for a walk.

“Dusty being the dog and Sophie and Junior being the cats. She offered you that love, that love in helping you prepare for the realities of life, and she did it so very well.

“For real love, for her, was a way of life.

“Her quick wit, her straight talking was done and given with love and with goodness.”

The mourners attending the funeral were also told that Mrs Martin loved the people of Creeslough.

“And we, each and every one of us who knew her, very much loved her,” Fr Duffy added.

“She was very special to us. She was very special to her colleagues and she was very special to us all.

“If we were having a bad day, the quick wit would lift us up. She cared for the customers in another way.

The hearse carrying the coffin of Martina Martin arrives at St Michael’s Church, in Creeslough Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

“Martina was a beautiful person, her beauty inside radiated in that kind of cheeky mischievous smile which flowed out to you when you met her.

“She was the voice of reason when others were hurting.

“She never minced her words and was the kindest friend you could ever have. She was the life and soul of any night out, she didn’t dwell on the problems she was facing, but put others first.”

Fr Duffy added: “All things changed, events outside our control, outside the control indeed of any one of us, those few seconds of time last Friday have impacted so much on you as a family and on so many other families and on all of us.

“Seconds that changed in time, that led to the changing for future generations of our village, our community and communities beyond. The events of last Friday will be forever etched in our hearts.”

He said that the community of Creeslough was growing in strength each day to get through the hours and days ahead.

“Creeslough is a small village, but it is now more than just that. It is now a word for determination, for resolve and for togetherness and how important togetherness is,” Fr Duffy added.

“This tragedy has reignited within all of us, myself included, that each one of us are only as strong as the families we have around us, only as strong as the community that surrounds us.”

At the end of the service Fr Duffy urged people affected by the tragedy to contact local counselling services, which he said he intended to do himself.

The funerals of Jessica Gallagher, 24, and Martin McGill, 49, were held in Creeslough on Tuesday, while those of Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 13, were held in Creeslough on Wednesday afternoon, and a service for James O’Flaherty, 48, was held in the morning in Derrybeg.

Family and mourners arrive at St Michael’s Church Credit: Brian Lawless/PA

The funeral of the oldest victim of the tragedy, 59-year-old Hugh Kelly, will take place in St Michael’s on Friday morning.

Funeral details for the youngest victim, Shauna Flanagan Garwe, five, and her father Robert Garwe, 50, have yet to be announced.

Help and support:

Ireland's HSE has established a support phone line for those impacted by the tragedy in Creeslough.

People should ring 087 1405138 where their call will be answered by trained HSE professionals.

The line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

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