Lurgan DJ who works in California speaks of Berkeley tragedy

NewsBy Richard Sullivan
Donagh McKeown spoke of the incredible support Californians have shown for the victims of the Berkeley tragedy
Donagh McKeown spoke of the incredible support Californians have shown for the victims of the Berkeley tragedy

A fund to help those affected by the Berkeley balcony disaster has raised almost $200,000.

California based broadcast journalist Donagh McKeown said there had been a “ dramatic” outpouring of support for those touched by the tragedy.

The Lurgan man, working on a community radio station aimed at California’s huge Irish/American community said people were desperate to help the families of the six Irish students killed when a fourth floor balcony collapsed during birthday party celebrations.

“First of all there was shock and then within a very short period of time the offers of help came rolling in,” he said.

He said staff at the locally based Irish Cultural Centre had been inundated with cash donations and offers of support.

“People have offered to open their homes to anyone needing somewhere to stay, if people need to be picked up from the airport there is no shortage of those willing to help.”

He said the local community had made transport available and with the help of the Irish Pastoral Centre counselling sessions have also been made available.

Gaelic football matches scheduled for this weekend have been cancelled as  a mark of respect, members of one club in the Berkeley area gathered to hold a minute’s silence.

“There is a strong Gaelic football tradition in California and people forget there is probably a bigger Irish/American population across California than in places like New York and Boston.”

He added they had been `galvanised’ by a report carried in the New York Times slamming the alleged party culture surrounding the J1 visa scheme.

“It (article) was bizarre and all the more hurtful because it appeared to come from writers of an Irish background.


“If anything it brought the Irish community even closer and made people even more determined to help.”

He said the near $200,000 raised so far would be used to help families with the cost repatriating loved ones remains to Ireland or helping to meet the medical costs of survivors.

The bodies of four of the six who died are due to be brought back to Ireland this weekend.

The bodies of Niccolai “Nick” Schuster, Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh and Eoghan Culligan all of whom were 21 were flown to Dublin from San Francisco overnight and are due in Dublin this morning.

A joint funeral service was held for Olivia Burke 21, and her Irish-American cousin Ashley Donohoe 22, on Saturday morning near Ms Donohoe’s home in Sonoma County, north of San Francisco.

Some 300 members of the Irish J1 community in California held an all-night vigil on Friday Archbishop Diarmuid Martin  celebrated a special Mass at the Pro Cathedral in Dublin at 6pm on Saturday.

Donagh McKeown said a series of fundraising events had been planned for the weekend including a rock concert.

“IN some ways people feel a little helpless so they do what they can, and for many that means helping to raise some money.”

This weekend Bandbridge born priest Fr Michael McAleenan, who has been in the US since 1986 admitted the last few days had been difficult for the entire community.

The 52-year-old has been offering support to the families and has spent time at the hospital with survivors.

“Obviously as a priest I cannot think of what it would be like to lose a child,” he said.

“But I do know what it was like when tragedy struck my own family and I would not wish it on anyone.

“My sister, who lives out here, and I have been home to Banbridge three times, each for a sad occasion.

“Perhaps I have learned to be a better priest because of these experiences. God prepares you for the work you have to do, although this week it has been extraordinarily difficult.”