Parish priest says relatives of pier tragedy victims are inconsolable

NewsBy Sunday World
An ambulance and a fire engine at the scene of the tragedy Photo: Justin MacLochlainn Via Independent
An ambulance and a fire engine at the scene of the tragedy Photo: Justin MacLochlainn Via Independent

Father Paddy O'Kane from Holy Family Church in Derry described the tragedy as the worst he had seen in 43 years and said the entire community was struggling to comprehend its magnitude.

Father O'Kane said: "Words fail me to describe the depth of pain and the vastness of this tragedy."

The priest spent much of the morning comforting the distraught family at their home in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry.

He is expected to visit the house again with Catholic Bishop of Derry, Donal McKeown and Ken Good, the Church of Ireland Bishop for Derry and Raphoe later.

"I am 43 years a priest and nothing compares to this," he added. "This is way beyond anything in my wildest imagination.

"This is the worst thing I have ever had.

"When I went up there this morning people were just standing around - men were just standing looking at the ground not knowing what to say.

"All you can do is just shake their hand and say 'I'm sorry'. A respectful silence is all I could muster.

"Before I left the house I said the Lords Prayer with everyone to give Louise and her family strength.

"We all knew there was a terrible tragedy that happened in Buncrana last night but we didn't realise it was on our doorstep. Little did I know it was going to come here."

It is understood the family had celebrated eight-year-old Evan's first confession just a fortnight ago and were preparing for his first communion in May.

Baby Rionaghac-Ann, the sole survivor of the accident, was christened in January.

Father O'Kane said: "It was a time of celebration. Little did we think that so soon after we were going to have such a tragedy on our doorstep.

"Two weeks ago little Evan made his first confession here and he was about to make his first communion in May. Little did we think that two weeks ago he wouldn't be here.

"They are inconsolable.

"Louise said to me, 'I have lost everyone, except little Rionaghac-Ann'. She said 'Rionaghac-Ann is my reason to go on'."

Speaking at the scene earlier, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the communities in Derry and Donegal would have to throw their arms around the bereaved family.

Father O'Kane said locals had rallied round.

He said: "People are very good in this parish and they will do all they can to help but what can you do and what can you say."

The funeral, expected to take place on Thursday, is going to be one of the most difficult the priest concluded.

"I have never had to do anything like this before so I hope the Lord gives me the right words to say to give some sort of consolation and peace," he said.

Meanwhile, at the bungalow in St Eithne's Park there was a steady stream of ashen faced visitors.

One man choked back tears as he explained the family were too upset to speak at this stage.