The priest at the centre of the Creeslough explosion tragedy said he is hoping and praying that answers are found to what caused the blast.
Ten people perished when a mystery explosion blew up the Applegreen Service Station in the tiny village on the afternoon of October 7th last.
Now a month after the tragedy ripped the heart from the local community, Fr John Joe Duffy said he “hopes and prays” those who lost loved ones get an explanation as to what happened.
He said “I think it is important for those who lost loved ones and those who were injured in the blast to know what happened. We all hope and pray that we get an explanation.
“If I lost a loved one or you lost a loved one you would want to know.It’s only natural.
“We want to know not only for closure but we want to know to see if we can learn lessons from this and prevent it form ever happening again.
“We are all hoping and praying that we get an explanation and I know that the investigation is huge so it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying. Hopefully the authorities will be able to come up with a reason or reasons as to why this happened,” he said.
Gardai have so far said that over 500 lines of enquiry into the blast with members of the Garda National Technical Bureau on the scene as well as investigators from DNV, a global company specialising in energy systems.
Meanwhile, Gardai last week secured an extension of a High Court order extending the preservation order on the scene of the blast until November 27th at least to collect and search for further evidence.
A huge mound of debris and masonry is still being searched through under the watchful eye of Gardai on the outskirts of the village.
Many suspect a gas leak may have caused the massive blast but nobody can say for certain at this stage.
While the glare of the world’ media may have turned its attention away from Creeslough, the community is trying its hardest to pick up the pieces.
The local Scrumptious Ice Cream Parlour opened its doors to local children yesterday and among those invited were members of the Under 13 St Michaels GAA team who won the county final last weekend.
Captained by Mark Anthony McGuinness, son of Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland winning manager Jim McGuinness, he proudly declared “This is for the community” as he lifted the cup.
They are small steps for a community which is grasping at any sense of normality to get over this awful tragedy.
The past month has been a whirlwind of all sorts of emotions for the people of the village including Fr John Joe.
After the ten funerals he was hit with a bout of Covid which kept him housebound and which he is still recovering from.
He watched as work started on a new shop next to St Michael’s Church by the Lafferty family who owned the Applegreen Service Station which will hopefully be opened in the coming days.
There was anger recently when it was announced that the on-site counselling services for locals would be coming to a halt son.
But Fr John Joe has reassured people that anyone seeking counselling services will be able to access them.
He reveals that he too has availed of several appointments with the counselling services to cope with the trauma he has encountered coping with the loss and emotions of the tragedy.
“Counselling is still available but not on an on demand basis locally as it was in the days of the tragedy. But anybody seeking counselling can get it either here in Creeslough or in Letterkenny because some people may prefer that privacy.
“I have availed of the service a number of times and I would encourage anybody who thinks they need to see a professional counsellor to go.
“But everyone is attending their own form of counselling here in the village be that chatting at the local GAA or soccer club, having a cup of tea with friends in a local cafe or in the youth cup. It is where people find comfort that they will heal,” he added.
Since the tragedy struck just after 3.15pm on a very normal Friday afternoon, Donegal, Ireland and the world has put its arms around Creeslough, according to Fr John Joe.
He has received literally thousands of messages, cards and phonecalls from around the world asking him to let parishioners know that they are not alone in their grief.
Each and every one is treasured by the Burtonport native but there are a few which stand out.
They include a booklet of prayers given to him by the pupils of Creeslough National School who lost their friend and fellow pupil, Shauna Flanagan Garwe, in the tragedy.
Another is a personal message in a booklet signed by every pupil from Douglas Community School in Cork.
Through local Downings-born priest Fr Eamonn McLaughlin who is based in Rome, Pope Francis sent a number of personally blessed rosaries for Fr John Joe and the bereaved families.
“I am currently going around the families giving out those rosaries and they will be of great comfort to them,” said Fr John Joe.
He added that the tragedy also showed the fragility of life.
“What we have gone through and what the community and the families are going through shows us the importance of life and faith but also the uncertainty and the fragility of life and for us to use every moment to the full and to make the best of every moment,” he said.
But for now Creeslough wants to be left alone and to be allowed to grieve and to try and rebuild the pieces from within.
The world’s media arrived in this remote Donegal village in the hours after the lives of James O’Flaherty (48), Jessica Gallagher (24), Martin McGill (49), Catherine O’Donnell (39) and her son James Monaghan (13), Hugh Kelly (59), Martina Martin (49), Robert Garwe (50) and his daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe (5) and Leona Harper (14) were taken in an instant.
The explosion projected the village onto the television screens and front pages around the world with this decent local community accepting that this was unfortunately part and parcel of the fall-out from the tragedy.
For many it seems like so much longer than just a month ago as they prepare to attend a series of month mind masses for their lost loved ones.
Fr John Joe said he understood the need for the media to tell the story of what happened in Creeslough.
However, he appealed for privacy in the coming days.
“I would ask that the families are given that privacy and space that they can work through their grief and have that time to process what has happened.
“It is not about moving on or getting over it. It is just a matter of coping for the families for now and the people of Creeslough should be given all the time and space they need to do that,” he said.