Northern Ireland news

Cookstown: How a town woke to unimaginable tragedy

Flowers at the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown where three teenagers died in a tragedy at a St Patricks night disco. Picture by Mark Marlow
Brendan Hughes

IT should have been a relaxing holiday after a fun-filled St Patrick's weekend, but the people of Cookstown were instead waking yesterday to an unimaginable tragedy.

The Greenvale Hotel, on the outskirts of the town, is a popular nightspot for young people and the scene of countless treasured family occasions including wedding receptions.

But now it is the focus of a major police investigation.

Amid the drizzle of rain, a single bouquet of flowers lay on the pavement on the roadside beside a police cordon yesterday as forensic officers examined the scene following the events of St Patrick's night.

Hundreds of young people had been queuing to enter the venue for a disco when there was a crush towards the front door, killing three teenagers.

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People in Cookstown were yesterday still coming to terms with the horrific incident.

Across the street at the Glenavon House Hotel, a manager said her staff had been "in tears" over the tragedy.

"As a fellow business in the town we're absolutely devastated for the town and the community," she said.

The staff member, who did not wish to be named, told how a policeman had borrowed a defibrillator from them as the incident unfolded.

The victims: 

Morgan Barnard's father describes the family's devastation

Connor Currie was 'much loved' 

Lauren Bullock remembered as 'a shining light'

Police also asked the Glenavon to make space available in case it was needed for any young people or their families.

"People are just stunned, shocked and desperately saddened. We offer our condolences to the bereaved families," she said.

Outside the nearby Asda supermarket, one shopper described how the Greenvale had been filled with families enjoying St Patrick's Day just hours before the tragedy.

Jacqueline Hopper (57) had gone to the hotel "to get something to eat but it was too busy".

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"It was packed. There was a great atmosphere about it and there were children about playing, their wee faces painted up and all," she said.

Along Cookstown's long main street, many shops were closed for the holiday period but people in the town expressed their shock at the loss of life.

Cookstown butcher Colly Donnelly. Picture by Mark Marlow

Colly Donnelly (47), owner of MacMahon butchers, said a "dark cloud" was hanging over the Co Tyrone town.

"Nearly everybody coming in has mentioned it. Everybody is very shocked and stunned," he said.

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Mr Donnelly has a 19-year-old son who was not at the Greenvale that night, but would have previously attended the venue.

"You send your kids out to a disco for a night's entertainment. You don't expect something like that to happen," he said.

"I just feel for the families. It's heartbreaking for them."

At a charity shop in the town centre, Cassie Hagan (76), who lives near Greenvale, expressed her condolences.

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"I was so sorry to hear of the tragedy at Greenvale. I feel so sorry for all the wee ones that were injured," she said.

Mrs Hagan also said she felt sorry for those who run the hotel, describing how she has been to many events at the venue over the years.

One business owner described the tragedy as "absolutely horrendous".

The woman, who did not wish to be named, said the owner of the hotel is an "absolute gentleman".

"It's a real family hotel. It does weddings and stuff," she said.

"I'm gutted for the families involved. It's just devastating for the whole town, it really is."

Megan McGirr (29), who works in McGlaughlin's Coffee House and Bakery, said: "I think everybody is just shocked.

"It's such a well-known area of the town – it could happen to anyone."

The teenage girl who died, Lauren Bullock, was a pupil at St Patrick's College in Dungannon while the two boys, Connor Currie and Morgan Barnard, were at the neighbouring St Patrick's Academy.

In the afternoon, fellow pupils gathered with parents and teachers at St Patrick's Academy for a prayer service in memory of the three teenagers.

The packed service lasted about half an hour. Education officials were also in attendance to offer further support to families.

Comforted by their parents, some pupils looked visibly shaken as they left the school grounds. Some young people hugged each other.

The service offered prayers for the families of Lauren, Connor and Morgan, their friends, and the emergency services who attended the scene.

"Our hearts go out to the victims and all those who have experienced loss," a leaflet from the prayer service read.

"Ease the pain we feel. Lighten the load we carry. Comfort us in our sorrow."

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