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Bernard McGinley Diarmuid Pepper/The Journal
Donegal Tragedy

First at the scene: 'There were people crying for help. We just tore into what we could'

Bernard McGinley talks to The Journal’s Diarmuid Pepper in Creeslough.

Diarmuid Pepper reports from Creeslough

“THERE WERE WIRES hanging everywhere, there was sparks, there were people crying for help. So we just tore into what we could.” 

That’s how Bernard McGinley describes his arrival onto the scene of the Creeslough explosion on Friday afternoon.  

He was one of the first to the service station, and also one of the last to leave on Sunday night.  

The Applegreen shop which was decimated in the explosion is owned by McGinley’s sister and brother-in-law.  

His daughter Alannah also works in the shop during the summer months and on some weekends. McGinley said the first thing he did when he arrived back home on Saturday night was to hug her tightly.  

“Some would say we’re not a very emotional group of people, but when I saw my three kids when I went home on Saturday night, that’s when it hit me, and Alannah was the first to wrap her arms around me.” 

McGinley, who works for Muckish Sand & Gravel, was at home at the time of the explosion and lives less than a quarter of a mile away.  

He heard the noise and raced towards the scene, noting that very little time had elapsed between the blast and his arrival.  

“When I got to Creeslough, I realised that there was something terrible wrong. It was just an unmerciful sight,” says McGinley. 

There were people that were in severe agony and pain, people walking around bewildered. There was absolute and total carnage. 

“There was people walking around dazed, people injured, people frantically looking for friends and partners, it was just unimaginable.  

“There were cars blown across the forecourt, people trapped. From the very start there were fatalities and people severely injured on the forecourt.

“We went inside and there was water coming out everywhere. There was wires hanging everywhere, there was sparks, there was people crying for help.” 

McGinley says everyone in the community, including teachers, tried as best to help with the bare hands and were removing rubble from the scene.  

When he entered, McGinley came across a young girl who was trapped behind shelving and adds that “we were very fortunate to be able to rescue her”. 

McGinley explains that they then turned the power off and “started to break stuff up, and take out blocks and debris and try to access other people that were trapped”. 

There were three people crying out for help when McGinley entered, but he and the people who initially arrived on the scene could only save the life of one of these people.  

“At the time, it was just a task that had to be done,” says McGinley.  

We didn’t really dwell on it but it’s more difficult now when you start to hear the details of the funerals and the stories of families and all the victims that it starts to hit home. 

He added that he just tried to do the best he could.  

McGinley was soon joined by emergency first responders, including, Brian Ó Fearraigh, a regional advanced paramedic supervisor.

He was in the first ambulance that arrived on the scene on Friday. Speaking to Barrscéalta on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta today, he explained how they got the call after 3.15pm and were “on the scene very quickly”.

“It was like something you’d see on TV, it was unbelievable.

“The local people were doing tremendous work when we arrived, trying to clear the debris and clear the road. As soon as we arrived on the scene, patients started walking towards us, and local people were carrying the injured towards us.

“We set up a triage system there on the road… We weren’t too concerned about the walking wounded, but the people who were on the ground and couldn’t move… They were the ones who most needed our help.” 

Ó Fearraigh said that the scale and seriousness of the event was immediately clear, and that they removed the eight injured patients to the hospital within 40 minutes.  

“As Supervisor, I needed to call back to Ambulance Control to give them an update on the situation and what we needed – more doctors, more ambulances. Sadly, we knew very soon that there were fatalities, and that was the worst thing.”  

Speaking to Frances Nic Géadaigh about the site, he described his concern about how this was all happening at a petrol station. 

“We didn’t know if the power was off, we didn’t know if the gas was off…  I’d say there were about 200 people helping us that day… but if anything further were to happen, we would have lost them too.

“We had to ask the public to stand back. We didn’t do that until the fire brigades and the Gardaí arrived and we set up a command centre … but we had to keep people back for safety.” 

IMG_6816 People beginning to leave flowers at the scene. Pictured is one local embracing a Garda at the cordon

Counselling support has been made available for the community and Bernard McGinley says this is something he will make use of.  

He continues: “There was so much to do for so long since Friday. It’s when it starts to calm down and you begin to reflect on it, that’s when you know that you need to get some help.” 

McGinley was on site right the way through until Saturday evening, and says he was working on adrenaline. 

But while he slept sound on Saturday night, sleep was impossible last night.  

“There were pains, there were aches, there was no sleep. And that’s similar to other people who were there.” 

McGinley knew nine of the ten people who died in the explosion.

“One of my friends arrived here and the first thing he said, “Was Alannah in the shop? 

“I knew she wasn’t, but it knocked me back. It just dawned on me how close it could have been.” 

Archbishop Eamon Martin visited Creeslough today and Pope Francis has issued a letter of condolence.  

McGinley says it’s all a big help to the community, adding: “People need to have an avenue to process and everybody wants to come and see it and share some of the burden of it, and I think that helps.” 

But McGinley warned that the scars will be long-lasting: “This doesn’t go away and this will evolve in different ways over time. People will require help for an awful long time to come. 

“I don’t understand how this little community will ever recover from this. This little village needs help for an awful long time. The enormity and severity of it, it is so far reaching. 

“Something needs to be done to let this little community recover.” 

When asked what his abiding memory of the scene will be, McGinley says he is “lucky” when compared to others. 

“I’m lucky, because one of the other first guys on the scene, his lasting memory is terrible. 

“The first fella that he tried to rescue died in his arms. But my memory is better, because my memory is taking a little girl out and rescuing [her], and she is okay. 

“That’s my take home, that is what I will hang on to.” 

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