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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Sam Elliott-Gibbs

Funerals for Donegal petrol station explosion victims begin with service for young woman

The first funerals of the ten victims of an explosion that ripped through a service station in Ireland have taken place.

The Mass service for tragic Jessica Gallagher was held at St Michael's Church in the County Donegal village this morning as family and friends gathered to say a heartbreaking goodbye.

The 24-year-old and her boyfriend, who is still recovering in hospital, lived in a flat above the petrol station in the village of Creeslough when it burst into flames on Friday.

The funeral service for Martin McGill, 49, also took place as a lone piper led his coffin into the service and Celtic Football Club jersey was brought to the front of the church. Fr John Joe Duffy welcomed mourners at the start of the funeral service and offered sympathy to Mr McGill’s mother Mary.

The explosion tore through the Applegreen service station and convenience store and adjacent buildings. Irish police are continuing to investigate the cause of the blast in a building complex.

Hundreds gathered in Donegal for the first funeral of the victims of Friday's explosion (Getty Images)

A number of emergency responders who took part in the recovery operation went to pay their respects to the victims.

President Michael D Higgins is represented at the funeral by his aide-de-camp.

Ms Gallagher’s body was carried into the church in a wicker casket this morning, the first funeral of the ten victims to take place.

Symbols representing her life were taken to the front of the church and a photograph of Ms Gallagher was placed on the casket.

A convoy follows the hearse carrying Jessica Gallagher (PA)

Her first piece of commissioned work, which was almost finished, was brought up during the offertory. Ms Gallagher will be buried at Doe Cemetery.

Father John Joe Duffy, who will preside at many of the Creeslough funerals, said he was struggling to find words to encapsulate the enormity of the tragedy.

He said outside St Michael’s Church: “It’s nothing we could ever have imagined, nor could any community have imagined.

Jessica Gallagher was due to start an exciting new job this week (PA)
Football fan Martin McGill, 49, will be buried this afternoon (PA)

“There are no words. I’m trying to find words this morning. I’m one of the locals here, I am one of the people, I am ordinary, I may wear this collar but I’m ordinary, I’m struggling to find words. Maybe words will find me this morning.

“I went there to reflect at the scene, I saw a little photograph that somebody had placed among the flowers of a dog who was sitting on stones looking out from a doorway onto a brighter sky.

“So, all that we can pray for is that, through the help of everyone, that the families will manage to get through this and I am worried for people.”

Speaking later, after the funeral of Mr McGill, he added: “Martin was a carer who was filled with love, filled with kindness and compassion.

A lone piper led Martin McGill's coffin into the service (Getty Images)

“Despite the awful, horrible tragedy that has struck at the very heart of this community, and broken our hearts, from the very first moment aren’t those the key words that have been in action in this community but have always been in action in this community.”

"He was a person where you could see the goodness flowing out from him. It was effervescent. It was like when you tighten a bottle and you give it a shake as a child and make it go all over the place when you open it up.

“He was just so caring. The caring flowed out from him. Each Sunday he would be in this church, he would be down there lighting candles. I think he lit to more candles than I ever lit anyway in my life. I don’t think anyone could break that record.”

Police escorted the young woman on her final journey (PA)
Sinn Fein Vice President Michelle O'Neill arrived at St Michael's Church (PA)

The other eight victims included Robert Garwe, 50, and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan.

Leona Harper, 14, and 48-year-old James O'Flaherty also died in the blast with 39-year-old Catherine O'Donnell and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan also killed.

Hugh Kelly, 59, and 49-year-old Martina Martin also lost their lives in what police say appears to have been a tragic accident.

Jessica's coffin is carried into this church (PA)

The funeral of Mr O'Flaherty will be held on Wednesday morning.

Local TD Joe McHugh and Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill for the first funeral and said: “Our thoughts and our prayers are very much with the people in Creeslough. This has been devastating.

“It is random but so many people have been left bereaved, and so many have been left injured, so I think it is important to show solidarity and support to the people here at such a tragic time.”

Jessica is the first of the ten victims to be laid to rest (PA)

Vigils were held for the third night in a row on Monday as the close-knit community of about 400 people come to terms with the loss.

Miss Gallagher, a fashion graduate who had studied in Paris and Shanghai, was due to start her career as a designer in Belfast on Monday.

Her devastated aunt Dolores Gallagher said she was a "beautiful young woman" who "lit up every room".

The hearse carrying Martin McGill this afternoon (PA)

She told the BBC : "She's a huge loss to the community and to her family and a credit to us all."

Her relative John McGeady posted on Facebook : "R.I.P. I'm sure you're all heard about the gas explosion in creeslough.

"Unfortunately our cousin Anthony Gallagher has lost his daughter Jessica in the explosion.

The deadly explosion happened at a service station in the village on Friday afternoon (PA)

"Jessica was in the same year at school as my daughter Flonnuala.

"Our thoughts are with her parents and two sisters and also so with all the friends and families of all the other victims of this disaster."

The police say it is the largest number of civilian casualty seen in decades in the region.

Mourners comfort each other as they arrive at St Michael's Church (PA)

Superintendent David Kelly, of Milford garda station, said: "This is a tragedy for our community. There are families left devastated.

"I want to offer, on behalf of myself and my colleagues that attended the scene, our very sincere condolences."

Eight people were transferred to hospital on Friday, with seven in a "stable" condition, while the eighth is in a "critical condition".

The ten victims who lost their lives in Friday's blast (PA)

As vigils were again held last night, project director Gerry McMonagle said: "This was an awful incident. I think the randomness of it, it could have happened to any one of us, and that brought it home to people.

"In this crowd tonight, everyone will know someone who was affected by this, it is such a tight knit community, when one hurts we all hurt.

"That's why we're all here tonight in solidarity and sympathy with those families."

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