Families left devastated by the Creeslough tragedy were tonight given the chance to thank those who fought bravely to save their loved ones at an emotional concert of hope.
Ten people were killed when the Applegreen Service Station was left in ruins following an explosion on a busy Friday afternoon.
Members of the emergency services supported by locals spent the night pulling survivors from the rubble of the disaster as well as those who unfortunately perished.
Now a concert involving some of the biggest names in Irish showbusiness has helped to try and heal the huge scar left on the local community following the tragedy.
Organisers stressed the concert was not a fundraiser but rather to give the village a sense of hope for the future.
Tickets for the ‘Creeslough Together’ concert which was held at the Aura Leisure Centre in Letterkenny sold out within hours of going on sale just before Christmas.
Some tickets were given out to the families of those caught up in the tragedy and all those who volunteered in the aftermath of the disaster.
Many brought together by tragedy on the afternoon and evening of October 7th when tragedy struck greeted each and embraced yet again and shared their own personal moments as they met before the concert.
There were smiles and tears but also a sense of healing as people gathered to support eachother and none more so was that emotion felt when the names of the ten people who lost their lives were read out.
Normally a bustling centre for the local community, there was just one solitary voice as one of the organisers, Ciaran O’Donnell read out the names of Shauna Flanagan Garwe, Robert Garwe, Catherine O’Donnell, James Monaghan, Leona Harper, Jessica Gallagher, James O’Flaherty, Martin McGill, Martina Martin and Hugh Kelly.
A minute of reflection was then held.
But what followed was a night of music, song and ultimately hope as the community of Creeslough try to regroup and rebuild but never forgetting the ten local people killed in this still unthinkable tragedy.
The idea for the concert was sparked after a conversation between former Westlife star Brian McFadden and music promotor Joe Gallagher.
Brian, whose father Brendan is a native of Creeslough, and Joe got the ball rolling.
Soon a whose who of Irish stars including Brian Kennedy, Keith Duffy, Mickey Joe Harte and Lisa McHugh had signed up to appear.
The event was co-hosted by Donegal stars Moya Brennan of Clannad and Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh from Altan.
The pair evoked a huge emotional response when they appeared on The Late Late Show just a week after the tragedy and played The Beatles song In My Life as a tribute to the people of the Donegal village which they played again tonight.
“Although this happened in Creeslough it happened to all of the Donegal people because we were all with you,” Altan singer Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh told the crowd.
Speaking just before she went on stage Moya Brennan admitted that she was nervous hosting the event but was also very excited.
“I did hesitate when they asked me to host it along with Mairead but there is a lovely atmosphere and feeling and there is a greta sense of hope. The whole night is about – “We haven’t forgotten.”
“There are people here that haven’t met since then between the first responders and the families and getting them together I think is a wonderful idea,” she said.
She added that she hoped the families understood the concert was for them adding “We share the burden with them and they know that and that really does help people that you are not on your own. When you haven’t got words music does a lot.”
Singer Brian Kennedy said Donegal and Creeslough had always held a very special place in his heart and that he simply could not say anything but yes when asked to perform.
“When Creeslough happened everyone was floored by what had happened. I have best friends in Gortahork and I have spent many Christmases here and I would often have gotten petrol at that station in Creeslough.
“I grew up on the Falls Road in Belfast where scenes like that were unfortunately not uncommon but to have it happen in Creeslough was just so tragic and so scary.
“I was hoping that something like this would happen because with everything else that was happening I just wanted the people of Creeslough to know that we weren’t forgetting about them.”
He added that he was also think of the first responders and all those who helped and who were in the audience.
“We learned during Covid how important it is to thank first responders and that’s not just by clapping in the streets but making sure they are paid probably.
“And this is our way of saying thank you to the first responders in Creeslough for all they had to face and go through on that night.”
Also to the fore of last night’s emotional concert was Fr John Joe Duffy.
Fr Duffy, a priest in Creeslough, attended all the funerals of those killed in the tragedy and was a huge part of the healing process for the village and beyond.
Speaking at last night’s emotional event he said he wanted to thank the organising committee of Ciaran O’Donnell, Ciaran Brogan and Joe Gallagher for making the event possible.
“This is a small way of thanking the emergency services and all those who helped on the night and in the days after this tragedy.
“We also wanted the people of Creeslough to know that we are walking in solidarity with them now and in the future,” he said.
As well as some well-known faces, local schools including Scoil Mhuire and Faugher National School also took part in the concert.
Accompanied by pianist Claire Bowes, who lost her sight in the 1998 Omagh bombing, the night reach an emotional highpoint when the schools sang Phil Coulter’s ‘The Town I love So Well.’
Pupils of Mulroy College secondary school, who lost two students, James Monaghan and Leona Harper as well as two parents of students in the tragedy, Catherine O’Donnell and Martina Martin, also performed at the concert.
More than 1,400 people attended the concert and among them were a number of invited guests including Dana, Tony Hamilton, Chief Executive of the Celtic FC Foundation Tony Hamilton and Deputy Malcolm Noonan who was representing the Government and Councillor Liam Blaney, Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council.
Those who died in the tragedy were five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her dad Robert Garwe, 50, Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 13, Leona Harper, 14, Jessica Gallagher, 24, James O’Flaherty, 48, Martin McGill, 49, Martina Martin, 49 and Hugh Kelly, 59.
A young man who was seriously injured in the blast and was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin has since been discharged.
A full investigation into the possible cause of the explosion is still ongoing.
Garda Commissioner Drew Harris said recently the investigation will take time because of its complexities.
“Ultimately we would hope to get to some final explanation as to what happened and that’s what we are working towards and why we have put so much time and effort into the examination of the scene and gathering witness statements,” he said.
Speaking following an invitation to attend a recent meeting of the Donegal Joint Policing Committee he said together with the experts, he hoped they would get to a satisfactory conclusion as to what caused the explosion.
He added “The investigation is properly and well-resourced in terms of what it set out to do. It just has to have time to follow through.
“As you can imagine the complexity of the evidence that is being retrieved and then expert analysis and conclusions drawn from that but I can’t say what the future is going to unfold in respect of it but hopefully we can get to an answer.”
See elsewhere on Donegal Daily for a picture special on tonight’s amazing event. All pics by Joe Boland of Northwest Newspix.