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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, where ten people have now been confirmed dead. Picture date: Saturday October 8, 2022. PA
VOICES

Creeslough woman 'Our small community is shell-shocked - we will never be the same again'

Marie Duffy says the whole community is shocked to its core after Friday’s explosion and the tragic loss of so many.

To make a donation to the Creeslough fund set up by the Red Cross and An Post, please click here.

MOST PEOPLE MAY never have heard of the small town of Creeslough in Co Donegal before Friday.

We don’t really have any claim to fame, we’re a small town one that many pass through en route to somewhere else. Some older people might be familiar with the old song called “Cutting the Corn in Creeslough Today” written by the well-known songwriter Percy French.

Others may be vaguely familiar with Creeslough as the home of the singer Bridie Gallagher. In her prime, she appeared on ‘Top of the Pops’ performing to packed out crowds at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New York, and the Sydney Opera House.

One of her songs “The Boys From the County Armagh” sold over 250,000 records, making it the highest-selling record at that time. Not bad going for a woman from a small town in the rural north west.

A dark day

Creeslough is a small village in rural Donegal. To give you an idea of how small – the town had one shop with a petrol forecourt and post office next door. Around 3.20 pm last Friday afternoon an explosion ripped through that shop and the apartments above it turning most of it to rubble.

Lafferty’s shop and petrol station was the only such outlet for miles. It also housed the local post office and only ATM. It wouldn’t be unusual for locals to call into the shop multiple times a day to pick up lunch from the deli counter, or something last minute for the dinner.

Creeslough is on the main N56 road from Letterkenny heading on to Dunfanaghy which is a popular nearby seaside town. The shop was a popular place for many to stop for petrol or to use the ATM.

The Lafferty family who owned the shop and adjoining petrol station and post office have been in business in Creeslough for many decades. Over the years they have employed many from the local community in their businesses over the years. Some years ago, like other young people from the area, I worked in the petrol station on weekends and summer holidays throughout college.

‘Shell-shocked’

The people of Creeslough are a very small tight-knit community and as is typical in most small Irish villages in rural Ireland, everyone knows everyone. As word filtered through the town on Friday afternoon, it was apparent very early on that this was a huge tragedy on a scale that our small town had never witnessed before.

Like many people from rural Donegal, I work away from home during the week. As I was driving home towards Creeslough on Friday for the weekend, I received a call from home informing me that there had been a major incident in the town. Nobody had exact details at first but locals were aware of how busy the shop would be.

We, therefore, knew that many people could be seriously injured. But even knowing this, I don’t think I truly understood the enormity of the situation.

As I drove the three hours home to Creeslough I could never have imagined the devastation that had just wreaked havoc in my small community. I know it’s such a cliche, but we see tragedies like this covered in the media all the time. But we never ever think that something like this could happen in our town, to people we know.

It’s no exaggeration to say that people from the area are shell-shocked. I had heard of the term before but it wasn’t until I arrived home that Friday evening that I realised the true meaning of this phrase. Everyone is in deep deep shock. Everyone in the area has neighbours, family members and friends who have all been impacted by the tragedy in some way.

Locals are pulling together as best they can and helping out where needed. Doing the essential things that are necessary in situations like this. Directing traffic, opening up their homes, providing tea and coffee to emergency responders and families affected and providing support to each other.

The local national school, coffee shops, pubs and medical centre were all open through the weekend and locals gathered to offer support to one another. But really, there are no words or support that anybody can offer to each other that makes any sense of such a tragedy.

Support services are being offered to the community and every little bit of help is much needed. Our small community will need much support in the days, weeks and months ahead. For the people too with connections to Creeslough but are far from home – we can only imagine how difficult it is to follow such news from afar.

When the media attention dies down, when the politicians go home and the rest of the world moves on with their lives, Creeslough will stand still forever stuck at 3.20 pm on that Friday afternoon. Our small community is forever changed and will never be the same again.

We are overwhelmed by the messages of support we have received from people all over the world. From the emergency services, the community groups, the counsellors offering support to young and old. Thank you.

Marie Duffy is a native of Donegal and a mental health advocate. To make a donation to the Creeslough fund set up by the Red Cross and An Post, please click here.

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