Our place and our people. This is what we are most proud of in Donegal. Our bond with both will draw strength to the people here in the dark days to come.
In communities across county from Gaoth Dobhair to Fanad, from Inishowen to Falcarragh, the echoes of grief are clearly felt, and the people of Donegal are coming together in groups to hold one another close and to remember.
Creeslough or An Craoslach, taking its name from the lake deep in the valley, lies at the foot of Muckish Mountain. Beyond the village, Sheephaven Bay opens up before you like a jewel.
As in so much of rural Donegal, where the local petrol station is a community centre, the place where you meet your neighbors when you stop by for a glass of milk, we could all picture the scene before the explosion that changed everything introduce.
Grief was palpable across Donegal
“Friday would have been a treat day on the way home from school,” a friend told me before the full horror of what was about to unfold was known. And yet we already knew it was going to be awful because of the time of day it happened. The custom of stopping for after-school treats or ice cream on a Friday is one that is repeated in this county and across the country. How could something so ordinary become so life-changing?
Grief was palpable across Donegal. People who meet can talk about nothing else. We cannot lift our heads and our hearts are down. A dark cloud has settled over the place we call home and yet we all seek each other out to try to do something to remember and let the mourners know that we are right next to them walk.
In Donegal when we refer to someone’s ‘people’ we are talking about their relatives, their cousins and their in-laws. It’s a way of describing loved ones that is mostly used by the older generation. The way people in this county have come together to show their support for Creeslough reminds us that we are all people here.
In Donegal most of us hail from small towns like Creeslough. We all know each other and each other’s people. Whether we have stayed in Donegal or left, these ties to places are so ingrained that they become our anchor wherever we go in the world. Because of this, Donegal people around the world will also suffer wherever they are.
In the midst of this search and grief, people come together
For 32 years, John McAteer has been at the helm of the Tirconail Tribune. For him, Creeslough is the “land” of his newspaper. He says a knife was thrust through the heartbeat of the community, who are struggling to understand what happened.
But he says amid this search and grief, people are coming together to do what they can to provide support. “Everyone is related here. There’s a great feeling of sharing and giving,” he says.
Impromptu services have been held across Donegal in recent days. In the driving rain, people stood in Milford Square, shielding the lights of their hand candles. At the community center in Fanad, ashen-faced locals, including many young people, stood in awe as local singer Kelly McGrory gave a haunting performance An angel’s voice. The house lights were turned off and the song was sung by candlelight.
Similar scenes took place in the town of Castlefin, where local minister Father Ciarán Hegarty led a moment of prayer before the congregation observed a two-minute silence. Musician Marian Harper-Coleman performed the song Cut the corn in Creeslough on the button accordion.
GAA clubs across the county canceled all games over the weekend. Many clubhouses held candlelight vigils, becoming community centers for people trying to grapple with the magnitude of the tragedy. Some, like Killygordon GAA club Red Hughs, have generously donated the proceeds of their weekly drawing to the Creeslough Tragedy appeal.
A powerful moment of prayer was shared at a mass attended by thousands of people at the pilgrimage site of Medjugorje. Donegal hotelier Noel Cunningham, who was staying in the Pilgrims’ Village, described the “incredible outpouring of sadness and sympathy” that gripped the people of Creeslough.
At Culdaff Beach in Inishowen, swimmers who had planned a midnight swim to mark the start of World Mental Health Week in the light of the full moon stood by candlelight to commemorate the dead and mourners.
Our strong Wake culture will no doubt see people traversing the county to pay their respects
Tracy McKeague, mental health consultant and organizer of the event, said the overwhelming emotion was sadness. “You feel like you don’t know what to say, but the vigil brings that sense of connection. In our community, we can identify with the people who go to their local business. Donegal is a big county, but it’s also small. We are very rural and as a county we feel like we always have each other’s backs. People are going to need all that support as they get into winter,” she said.
As families in Creeslough prepare for the funeral of their loved one, we will continue to find ways to reach the bereaved. Our strong Wake culture will no doubt see people traversing the county to pay their respects.
In the song The houses of Donegal, made famous by singer Paul Brady, there’s a line: “For your hearts are like your mountains in the homes of Donegal.” It sums up the people of Donegal to me. The hearts of all of us here will open wide and high to protect the people of Creeslough, our people.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/our-place-and-our-people-in-donegal-the-whole-county-carries-the-weight-of-creesloughs-heartbreak-42056363.html Our place and people: In Donegal, the whole county bears the weight of Creeslough’s heartache