Northern Ireland

Family whose house was destroyed by lightning overwhelmed by help from strangers

Debbie and Keith Nesbitt in the family home near Newtowncunningham in Co-Donegal that was hit by lightning during Storm Isha in January. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  8-2-2024
Donegal lightning strike Debbie and Keith Nesbitt's family home near Newtowncunningham in County Donegal was hit by lightning during Storm Isha in January. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin. (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

A Donegal mother whose house was destroyed by lightning said she’s “totally humbled” after a stranger turned up with an envelope of cash to help her family.

Debbie Nesbitt said she has no idea who the man was other than that he drove a red van with a northern registration.

She has been shocked by the generosity, kindness and support shown to her family since the disaster last month.

The family were downstairs at home in Newtowncunningham when lightning struck the roof of her house, setting it on fire during Storm Isha.

The freak event destroyed her “dream home” and left the family with just the clothes they were wearing.

The house is still in ruins and the family has been told it could be up to a year before they are back home. The roof has to be replaced and structural damage means the gable wall has to come down.



Debbie and Keith Nesbitt in the family home near Newtowncunningham in Co-Donegal that was hit by lightning during Storm Isha in January. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  8-2-2024
Donegal lightning strike Most of Keith Nesbitt and his wife, Debbie's belongings were destroyed in the stike. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

“All the plugs were blown out and the wiring all the appliances and white goods were destroyed,” Ms Nesbitt said.

“That night it was like an explosion. There was a bang and the whole house shook. Our neighbours said they thought their own windows were going to come in.”

But she has been overwhelmed by the help operation which sprang into action from family, friends and neighbours within hours.

“I can’t get over what has been happening. Just today a man in a red van pulled up and handed the structural engineer who was at the house an envelope with money in it. We haven’t a clue who he is, just that it was a red van with a northern registration.”

Shops in Letterkenny sent clothes, while friends and neighbours have rallied to the cause. A table quiz has been organised as well as tractor run, a coffee morning, a 5K run and a 50K cycle, all to raise money to help.

“All I can say is I’m totally humbled. It is hard to take in that complete strangers are coming to help. There are so many good people out there. There is a lot of bad in the world but there’s more good.

“I would like to think that we would help people in the same situation. It’s amazing; I got an offer of reflexology. I’ve never had that in my life,” she said.

Debbie and Keith Nesbitt in the family home near Newtowncunningham in Co-Donegal that was hit by lightning during Storm Isha in January. Picture Margaret McLaughlin  8-2-2024
Donegal lightning strike The lightning strike completely destroyed the upper floor of the Nesbitt's home. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin. (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

Help has even come in from abroad through a GoFundMe page set up by her sister which has already surpassed its €35,000 target. The page is available at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/mjmeu-help-the-nesbitt-family.

The family is now living in a house close to their home which was made available by its owner from Derry. They are trying to restore a routine with the children at school, the boys back at football with Lagan Harps and their daughter back playing basketball and hockey.



Ms Nesbitt said she now realises that the loss of possessions was insignificant against the fact that her family escaped uninjured. However, she was pleased that she was able to save family pictures, her wedding album and her wedding and engagement rings.

“I’m pleased about that,” she said.