Northern Ireland

Creeslough anniversary: One year on, Co Donegal village is still raw

The victims of the Creeslough disaster were, top, from left: Shauna Flanagan Garwe, Robert Garwe, Leona Harper, Hugh Kelly, Jessica Gallagher. Bottom , from left: Martin McGill, James O'Flaherty, Martina Martin, Catherine O'Donnell, James Monaghan.
The victims of the Creeslough disaster were, top, from left: Shauna Flanagan Garwe, Robert Garwe, Leona Harper, Hugh Kelly, Jessica Gallagher. Bottom , from left: Martin McGill, James O'Flaherty, Martina Martin, Catherine O'Donnell, James Monaghan. The victims of the Creeslough disaster were, top, from left: Shauna Flanagan Garwe, Robert Garwe, Leona Harper, Hugh Kelly, Jessica Gallagher. Bottom , from left: Martin McGill, James O'Flaherty, Martina Martin, Catherine O'Donnell, James Monaghan.

A year after the Creeslough disaster, the scene is cordoned off with chipboard hoarding.

Behind the hoarding, half a building still stands, the home of “Fiona’s Beauty Salon”. To its side, perched on remaining steel girders, are the remains of the Applegreen complex. The hoarding doesn't really mask the pain and grief of last year.

No longer recognisable as the thriving hub of the village, the shattered, soulless shell awaits final destruction. All rubble was removed for investigation.

One year on, the derelict building gives no hint of the pain, anguish, terror and despair which ripped through it at seventeen minutes past three on October 7 last year. At that moment the lives of 10 people came to a terrible end. Included were five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe, James Monaghan (13) and Leona Harper (14).

Read more: 

  • Creeslough: The victims
  • Creeslough's journey from tragedy continues with new store
  • Creeslough priest sought counselling following explosion

Later, a temporary `Nearby' store was opened beside Creeslough health centre, just by Scoil Mhuire national school. It has become the village focus that the Applegreen complex once was. On a Friday, two weeks ago, parents gathered in the shop car park to await their children, as they left school for the week.

One year on, just as Shauna Garwe did up the street at Applegreen, children bearing schoolbags much too big for their backs, hugged their parents and skipped into the store to celebrate the coming weekend with ice cream, sweets and treats.

In scenes echoed throughout Ireland, there was little hint of the tragedy which unfolded 12 months earlier. As parents and children emerged from the shop, they pass a huge tractor wheel shaped notice, advertising tickets for a “Tractor Raffle for the Creeslough Tragedy”.

One year on, the people of Creeslough are reluctant to speak openly about their village. Almost in whispers, many politely and gently tell outsiders, reporters, they don’t want to say anything. The shock is replaced by a grief that may eventually leave the individual but will never fully leave Creeslough. There’s still a rawness about the village.

Across the road from the explosion site, business goes on at the Heartland hardware shop. Staff quietly direct journalists towards parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy. They acknowledge that sadness still hangs over the village and that the tragedy is still an everyday talking topic. Fr Duffy became the de facto village leader in the days and weeks after the disaster.

One year on, with the memory of the latest disaster still raw, Creeslough’s pain is marked by flowers, candles and teddy bears in memory of the children who were among the dead. A Celtic top has been left across the street from the grotesque ruin. It’s in memory of Martin McGill (49), the Scot who moved to Creeslough 22 years ago to look after his parents and whose life ended in the Applegreen explosion.

On the outskirts of Creeslough, a brown sign points the way to a monument marking the town’s other tragedy. On the night of January 31 1925, the Swilly train to Burtonport was blown off the Owencarrow viaduct, killing four passengers. Almost one hundred years on, fresh flowers grow at the Owencarrow memorial.

Like the Owencarrow viaduct disaster, the Applegreen explosion will define Creeslough for generations to come.