Northern Ireland news

Creeslough: The grá of Donegal will help them in the dark days

A member of An Garda lays flowers at the scene of an explosion at Applegreen service station in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal on Sunday. Picture by PA
Thomas Hawkins

My mobile pinged on Friday afternoon and pinged again, and again, and again quickly after.

The images on the phone hit me hard.

The tragedy unfolding at the Applegreen garage, on the edge of the little village of Creeslough in Donegal, shocked me to the core.

This peaceful village that my family have stopped at and travelled through so often in recent years en-route to Marble Hill, was now a scene of utter devastation.

An explosion at the garage complex had ripped through the supermarket and shops on either side, as well as the apartments above it.

It left a wake of destruction and death, life taken far too soon, loved ones lost forever, sorrow and grief beyond imagination.

Later, scenes of locals standing helpless in stunned silence on the road, reports of relatives at the cordon desperate for news of a missing loved one as heroic rescue efforts got underway, were heartbreaking.

That day, Friday October 7 2022, will never be erased from the minds and hearts of all Donegal people, nor from Ireland’s collective memory.

County Donegal has a lot going for it. Generations of holidaymakers will have stayed in or driven through Creeslough village on their journeys onward to Dunfanaghy, Falcarragh and Gortahork, via the Wild Atlantic Way.

Perched above Sheephaven Bay, Creeslough nestles quietly amid green pastures, all around it is steeped in history, the well-preserved ruins of 15th century Doe Castle close by.

The opening of a top-class glamping complex directly across from the Applegreen has attracted scores of new holidaymakers to the area.

The sand dunes in the secret Tramore Beach in nearby Dunfanaghy are where the seeds of Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland Football triumph were sown.

But at its heart it is the people who make Donegal.

Donegal legend Brian McEniff once told me: ‘’Thomas, Donegal people have a deep grá in them, they are a special people, they feel and they care.’’

That Irish word grá describes a love, a true affection and friendship, and is particularly appropriate in the face of this horrific catastrophe.

The people of Creeslough, in the Applegreen, or Rose’s Bar or the Glamping site, and across this whole Sheephaven Bay coastline from Dunfanaghy to the Downings and beyond, exude that grá, a friendliness and sincerity that marks them out.

I have experienced it many, many times in my travels around the back roads, trails, forests, shops, pubs and cafes of the county.

I was in the Applegreen garage just the previous weekend.

It’s always our last stop, the place to load up on essentials before we land at Marble Hill.

I watched as the school bus pulled up at the garage and several of the teenagers drifted into the supermarket.

Well-mannered young lads and girls, they let me enter first.

Those kids came into my mind when I first heard the awful news of the explosion.

So too did the men and women who worked there and the girls on the checkouts.

And the late-shift guy who struck up a conversation and a bit of craic with me, before he shut up shop and drove off into a dark, rainy Donegal night.

And the locals, and the older ones, perhaps farmers, their calloused hands evidence of long years of hard toil.

Our hearts go out to all the bereaved, the injured, their families and the entire Creeslough community.

I pray that the beautiful grá you possess will help you in the dark days that lie ahead.

Thomas Hawkins is a former Irish News Sports Editor


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