A devoted son, Martin, who took care of his mother. James, a father reading Roald Dahl’s Going Solo with his child. Little five-year-old Shauna is looking forward to back to school and the upcoming birthday parties of her mother, who later died in the arms of her father Robert while buying a birthday cake.
Ashion graduate Jessica in the process of making her first shirt. Mother and son Catherine and James queued at the post office, probably discussing what to do over the weekend. Leona, a 14-year-old gifted athlete on her way to an overnight stay. Martina, mother of four, works her shift in the shop at the gas station. Hugh, a 59-year-old farmer. A little over a week ago, all of these people were still with their families and Creeslough was unharmed.
And then the unimaginable became reality for the small village in the shadow of Muckish. The community have since displayed the best of Donegal and Ireland in their kindness, compassion and the way they have teamed up afterwards.
They have endured their loss – and it is a collective, incalculable loss – by holding each other, offering practical help, and being there. We all know the fatigue that comes with the grief of having to move on despite exhausting dissociation. Creeslough had wave after wave of it; much more difficult, no doubt, in front of cameras, the visiting delegations and the shock that comes with an unexpected tragedy.
Father John Joe Duffy captured the spirit of the area at Jessica Gallagher’s funeral with a beautiful analogy for her family and friends. He spoke of Muckish and how it is a struggle to see him when the fog is lowering or the moonlight is absent. “But the reality of Muckish is there,” he said. “It’s there in the fog or haze, it’s there when the night is dark and our eyes can’t carry our gaze far enough to see.”
His metaphor attempted to explain that heaven is a bit like that, and that he and Jessica would be there, although their physical presence cannot be seen now.
To the congregation, those words were comforting and compassionate.
Like Muckish, Creeslough’s priest was just as consistent. He witnessed more tragedy than most last week and conducted many of the funerals. He was also there on that horrific Friday, praying for 10 bodies, one at a time, as they were recovered. Some he knew personally; nine were from his community.
He visited devastated families, succored friends, and delivered a first mass the morning after the tragedy, though stunned with shock himself, and steered his congregation like a ship’s captain through choppy waters, his soft Donegal lilt calm and reassuring.
“As a family, we will help each other,” he said. At another Mass, as the scale of the horror was realized, emergency services workers stood alongside the families of those they rescued and recovered. Ten red candles, representing each deceased, burned on the altar as the priest preached the Gospel of Luke to the lepers, reminding those present the phrase “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us,” to honor the people’s care for one another amidst this horror .
I’m not religious – it left me long ago but I couldn’t help but be moved by the faith of this man and the Creeslough community who, though weary, have carried on. Connection to the church is crucial, a precious asset for a small village where people need hope in their darkest days. Something to hold on to while they hold on – vital when the media and others leave and leave them to find a way forward in the darkest of days.
Across Ireland people have prayed and sought comfort in their own churches to bring healing to those left behind. Some have also had their faith severely tested. How is it to be understood that 10 people go about their daily business and then are immediately treated so cruelly? How can you look at the photo of little Shauna Flanagan Garwe in her school uniform without having your faith shaken?
Father Duffy and other ministers understand this and have focused on allowing people to process their grief. They were honest about not having the right words at times, and they also humanized the deceased, giving us a glimpse into each of their personalities and their qualities as human beings.
James O’Flaherty’s funeral was held at Doirí Beaga on Wednesday, where Father Brian Ó Fearraigh officiated. James’ 12-year-old son Hamish captivated everyone with his eloquent and articulate words about his father. Hamish said he was “a great man. He worked very hard and very long every day… He wore a jacket with a huge stain of paint all over the side, he managed this by leaning against a still wet wall”.
His faith and words were wise beyond his years. “For your families, cherish them. Be grateful because they won’t be around forever, so use the time you have wisely…be thankful that God gave us this life and all the things in it.” He would have pulled a teardrop from a stone.
Too often today we scoff at the concept of Christianity as if it were outdated; from another time, another place, in the worn fabric of our country. Our church and state connections have an eventful past. However, last week has shown that churches, whatever their religion, still have an important role to play in the pastoral life of communities – to bind, heal and comfort. clergy too.
Father Duffy, a remarkable man who has kept his community together and to whom we all deserve our gratitude for the help he has given them, is right when he says: “Creeslough is a village… but it is more than that now. It is now a word for determination, for determination and for togetherness.”
And for restoring all of our belief in human nature.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/creeslough-church-helps-to-steer-people-through-the-darkest-of-days-42069503.html Creeslough: Church helps guide people through their darkest days