Heartbroken village says its final farewells to five-year-old girl

Heartbroken village says its final farewells to five-year-old girl and father killed in Irish petrol station explosion that claimed 10 victims while they were buying birthday cake for girl’s mother

  • The last funeral for victims of the explosion in Creeslough, County Donegal, is underway in the Irish village
  • Five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her father Robert Garwe were among 10 who died on October 7
  • A gas blast destroyed the Applegreen service station, also killing six other adults and two teenagers
  • Irish president Michael D Higgins is among the mourners as parish priest says community is ‘still in shock’

Grieving relatives came together for the funeral of the youngest victim of the Creeslough service station explosion in County Donegal, who tragically died alongside her father.

The service for five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe, and her father Robert Garwe, 50, is underway at St Michael’s Church with Irish president Michael D Higgins among the mourners.

Parish priest Father John Joe Duffy said the community is still in shock over the blast at Applegreen Services Station on October 7, which killed ten people.

‘There is still that pall of silence, that grieving and mourning, that heartbreak visible to others who enter into the homes to try and offer consolation and comfort,’ he said.

‘We need help, we need the continued embrace of this country and beyond it, and prayers, and also very much so the professional supports that are being made so available to us, and thank all who are involved in that.’

Residents in the rural Co Donegal village lined its main street once again for the sixth and final funeral service held at St Michael’s for victims of the tragedy over five days.

Mourners at yesterday’s funeral for the oldest victim, Hugh Kelly, 59, heard how he drove Mr Garwe and Shauna to the service station shop to buy a birthday cake for the youngster’s mother.

Shauna’s uncle Killian Flanagan has said that when they were found, Robert had his arms around his little girl.


Five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe (left) was the youngest of the ten victims killed in the blast at Applegreen Services Station in Creeslough, County Donegal, on October 7, alongside her father Robert, 50 (right)

The coffin of five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe, who died following an explosion at the Applegreen service station in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal is carried into St Michael’s Church

The coffins of Robert Garwe and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe are carried by pallbearers into the funeral service

Distraught relatives followed immediately behind the two coffins as they head to St Michael’s Church for the funeral mass

A long procession lined the streets in Creeslough, County Donegal, for the funeral today of Shauna Flanagan Garwe, five, and her father Robert, 50

Dozens of villagers came out to remember Shauna, the youngest of the ten victims of the blast, and her father Robert, who worked in construction

Father John Joe Duffy blesses the coffins of Robert Garwe and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe

Pictured: The scene of devastation at the petrol station in Creeslough is shown in this aerial photograph

Mr Garwe, 50, originally from Zimbabwe, worked in construction and could often be seen travelling around the village on his scooter.

Shauna started at Scoil Mhuire National School in Creeslough just weeks ago.

The funerals of fashion student Jessica Gallagher, 24, and Celtic supporter Martin McGill, 49, were held in Creeslough on Tuesday, while a funeral Mass for Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan took place on Wednesday afternoon.

A service for Sydney native James O’Flaherty, 48, was held on Wednesday in Derrybeg.

The funeral of shop worker and mother-of-four Martina Martin, 49, took place in Creeslough on Thursday morning and a service for 14-year-old Leona Harper was held at St Mary’s Church in Ramelton later that day.

Today’s funeral for Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her father Robert is the sixth and final funeral service to be held at St Michael’s church for victims of the Creeslough blast

The funeral service yesterday for farmer Hughie Kelly, 59, heard how he had driven Shauna and her father to the Applegreen Services Station while on a mission to buy a birthday cake for her mother. All three tragically died in the explosion

Garda at the scene at the Applegreen service station in the village of Creeslough in Co Donegal last week, where ten people lost their lives

Today, the scene of the tragic blast remains boarded up as investigations into the cause of the disaster continue. Father John Joe Duffy said the community had been hit by ‘a tsunami of grief’

Emergency services walk somberly away from the scene of the Applegreen service station explosion on October 8, 2022 in Creeslough

Family members follow the two hearses as the funerals of Robert Garwe, aged 50 and his daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe, aged 5 take place today

Jessica Gallagher, 24, had recently returned to her hometown of Creeslough from Paris. It is understood she was studying design in the French capital, but had recently moved home

Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan, two of the ten victims of the explosion at Applegreen service station


Leona Harper (left), 14, a keen rugby player, and Martin McGill (right), 49, also tragically died in the disaster on October 7


Martina Martin (left), 49, worked at the Applegreen station and was on duty that day; while engineer James O’Flaherty (right), 48, was also among the victims of the blast

There were tearful scenes in the town of Milford on Sunday, October 16, as residents were left struggling to come to terms with the tragic gas explosion at an Applegreen Service Station in nearby Creeslough.

Despite the rain hundreds gathered in a show of solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in the blast, with the victims named today including a father and his five-year-old daughter, as well as a mother and her son.

One man in his 20s is still thought to be fighting for his life in hospital today and a further eight are still being treated for injuries sustained in the explosion.

At the vigil, which was one of 20 held across County Donegal today, prayers were said for those who have tragically lost their lives and for the recovery of those wounded, while music was played – including a song called Creeslough, written and played by a local musician.

Parish priest Father Stephen Gorman read a statement sent on behalf of Pope Francis, expressing his sadness at the tragic loss of life and sending his condolences to the people of Ireland.

Parents hugged their children and people carried candles at the vigil, which also saw the crowd sing the Irish hymn A Mhuire Mhathair.

And in Castlefinn mourners held candles and stood in a moment’s silence as they paid their respects to those killed in the blast.

 

Mr Higgins has been attending the funerals of the victims since Wednesday and meeting the families of those affected.

The Taoiseach’s aide-de-camp Commandant Claire Mortimer, and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue, have also been attending funerals.

Ireland’s police force An Garda Siochana continues to investigate the cause of the blast, which is being treated as an accident.

As well as the 10 killed in the blast, eight others were hurt.

Seven have been receiving treatment in Letterkenny University Hospital, while a man in his 20s remains in a critical condition in St James’s Hospital, Dublin.

Two hearses bearing the coffins of Creeslough explosion victims Robert Garwe and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe arrived at St Michael’s Church side by side.

The child’s small coffin was carried into the church first, followed by her father’s ahead of their requiem Mass.

There were a number of photographs of Shauna and flowers in front of the altar in the church, which bore 10 candles – one for each of the victims of the tragedy.

Father John Joe Duffy began by welcoming the congregation, which included a representative of Irish premier Micheal Martin and emergency services.

Father John Joe Duffy offered their ‘most sincere sympathies’ to Mr Garwe’s partner Aine ‘on the death of your partner and your beautiful daughter’, and welcomed family members who had travelled, including some from Zimbabwe.

Symbols representing different aspects of Mr Garwe and Shauna’s lives were present, including a scooter ‘which was very much part and parcel of their lives’.

‘I’m not sure who could go fastest on the scooter, but I know on feet, Shauna could outrun her dad, be it at the school gate, be it on the road where I so often saw them and met them, or be it in the shop where she helped to stack the shelves with the girls,’ Fr Duffy told mourners.

There was also a catapult for ‘hunting together’ and Shauna’s favourite unicorn teddy in the Creeslough church.

One local woman, who helped a mother to identify her child at the scene, told the MoS: ‘I thought it was an atomic bomb and I was looking for the plume. Everything shook and then there was just silence, you could not even hear the birds. There wasn’t any fire and there wasn’t any smell.’

Another woman added: ‘My daughter thought it was a shooting. She didn’t know what was going on.’

Dr Paul Stewart, who has been the GP in Creeslough for the past 22 years and who took part in the rescue operation, said: ‘It was horrific. I grew up in Belfast through the Troubles and it reminded me of then – three floors collapsed into those poor people.

The explosion took place in Creeslough, is a tiny village in County Donegal on the northern side of the Republic of Ireland, with a population in 2016 of 393 people

‘It was 15 minutes before services arrived so friends and neighbours were all trying to pull people out of the rubble. They got a good few out and some of us then, despite the danger, went back in.

‘We had to wait then. We knew there were people who hadn’t come home.

‘This has been a huge tragedy. We have lost friends neighbours and loved ones,’ Dr Stewart said.

‘It is going to take a long time to heal those scars, maybe years,’ he told RTÉ.

Investigating gardaí have described the blast as an accident but say they are still keeping an open mind.

Garda technical experts will spend the next few days combing the site to determine the cause of the explosion.

Local TD and Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue last night paid tribute to the local community and volunteers who put their lives on the line to assist the rescue operation.

‘The community put their lives at risk to try and help people,’ he told the MoS. ‘Really, it takes your mind back to something seen during the Troubles years ago.

‘Families had a harrowing night. We have had dark days in the county before.

‘This is one of the darkest.’

Lives snatched in a split second: The 10 victims of the petrol station blast

Robert Garwe, 50, and Shauna Flanagan Garwe, 5 

Robert, 50, died alongside his five-year-old daughter in the explosion.

He and little Shauna visited the petrol station at Creeslough intending to buy a cake for her mother, but were killed moments after entering the store.

Robert is understood to originally be from Zambia, but moved to the picturesque Donegal village about a year ago with other members of their family. His five-year-old daughter Shauna was the youngest victim of the explosion at the Applegreen station.

The news of the loss of such a young life devastated the country yesterday, as her family released an image of the girl in her school uniform.

The little girl’s brother, who moved to Donegal from the UK, was among those who kept a vigil at the site of the explosion over the weekend.


Robert Garwe (left), 50, died alongside his five-year-old daughter (right) in the explosion. He and little Shauna visited the petrol station at Creeslough intending to buy a cake for her mother, but were killed moments after entering the store

James Monaghan, 13, and mother Catherine O’Donnell

James Monaghan (right) was at the store with his mother, Catherine O’Donnell (left), when they were killed

James Monaghan was at the store with his mother, Catherine O’Donnell, when they were killed. The 13-year-old was a student at Mulroy College in Milford.

Psychologists from the National Educational Psychological Service and Donegal Education and Training Board have also offered advice and guidance to ensure the wellbeing of students and families.

Dr Martin Gormley, of Donegal ETB, said it is difficult to put into words the impact of the tragedy on the community. ‘I wish to compliment the emergency and health services, the school management and staff and the educational psychologists on their response to this critical incident,’ he said.

‘We extend our sympathies to all the families and we now wish all those injured a speedy recovery following the accident.

‘This is a tragedy that is difficult to put words on.’

Australian James O’Flaherty (pictured) was well-known within his community and worked as a director for Jabil, an American manufacturing services company

James O’Flaherty, 48 

Australian James O’Flaherty’s achievements as an engineering director were renowned. During his career, he managed large-scale software engineering and electrical engineering projects worth more than €100million.

James was well-known within his community and worked as a director for Jabil, an American manufacturing services company. He spent years studying and working in Australia, securing an MBA in Business Administration and management at the university of Tasmania.  

A former client of his described James as a man ‘loaded with enthusiasm, energy and insight’.

‘James’s drive and dedication has allowed for multiple deliveries of successful projects,’ said Shaun Struwig.

‘He has the ability to communicate at a very high-level, but understands all the technical details, providing comfort in project delivery.

‘Loaded with enthusiasm, energy and insight, offering excellent and practical solutions in often very trying and difficult situations, approaching challenges with innovative ideas, and sharing these in an open and constructive manner. James, being a great team player, would be an asset to any company.’

Hugh Kelly, 59 

At 59, Hugh was the eldest victim in the tragedy, and has been described as a ‘gentleman’. It was reported last night that he worked in construction and was in a long-term relationship.

At 59, Hugh Kelly (pictured) was the eldest victim in the tragedy

Martina was working behind the counter at the Applegreen service station when she was killed in the tragic blast

Martina Martin, 49 

Martina was working behind the counter at the Applegreen service station when she was killed in the tragic blast. She was mother to a student at Mulroy College in Milford.

Fiona Temple, principal of Mulroy College said the school, staff and pupils are distraught by the loss of those within the school community.

‘We as a school community are devastated on hearing of the tragedy and the fatal outcome for our two beautiful students and our cherished parents. Our thoughts and prayers are with all the families and the Creeslough community at this time,’ she said. 

‘We are numbed by this overwhelming sadness and will work together to support all members of our school community in the coming days, weeks and months ahead.’

Leona Harper, 14

Leona Harper (pictured) is believed to have entered the service station on Friday afternoon with her friend to buy ice cream after school

Leona is believed to have entered the service station on Friday afternoon with her friend to buy ice cream after school.

She was later planning to go to a sleepover at her friend’s house.

The 14-year-old was killed while choosing an ice cream from the fridge, while her friend was left injured.

Her devastated brother, Anthony Harper, paid a moving tribute to her, saying he couldn’t have asked for ‘a better little sister’.

‘Leona, I love you so much and we all love you so much,’ he wrote on Facebook.

Leona, who was a student at Mulroy College, was also remembered over the weekend as a talented rugby player, playing for Letterkenny RFC under-14s.

Her local club Letterkenny described Harper as a ‘talented rugby player’ and a key member of their under-14s girls team.

Both Ulster and Leinster have paid tribute to Harper following her tragic passing.

‘We offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Leona Harper, who lost her life in Creeslough, Co. Donegal,’ Ulster Rugby stated on social media.

Martin McGill was among the victims of the petrol station explosion

Martin McGill, 49

Locals yesterday recalled seeing Martin McGill’s car outside the petrol station soon after the blast, while his frantic mother rang the local pharmacy in search of him.

It was soon discovered that the 49-year-old was among the victims. 

Martin was a carer for his mother, and was described by local pharmacist Fergus Brennan as an ‘exceptional young man’.

He added: ‘Martin was a very regular visitor, because he was a carer. He was so well liked and loved, and looked after his parents, most recently this mum, with such dedication and love’.

Jessica Gallagher (pictured)had recently returned to her home town of Creeslough from Paris, where it is understood she was studying design

Jessica Gallagher, 24 

Jessica had recently returned to her home town of Creeslough from Paris.

It is understood the 24-year-old was studying design in the French capital, but had recently moved home.

She is said to be from a family of talent musicians and artists. Her boyfriend was among those injured in the

explosion, and was taken to a specialist burns unit, where his condition was described as critical.

Local visual artist, Ian Joyce, who knew Ms Gallagher said that he was ‘shocked’ by her death.

‘I knew a young woman who died in the blast… She lived in Paris for a number of years, and she had just moved home. She was a designer,’ he said.

‘The best of people in worst of situations’.

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