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Cork Tragedy Emotional tributes paid to priest and bus driver killed in freak accident as funerals take place

Family, friends, workmates and clergy showed solidarity between both heartbroken families


The cortege arrives for the funeral of Mark Wills at the Church of Mary and St John in Ballincollig, Co Cork (Niall Carson/PA)

The cortege arrives for the funeral of Mark Wills at the Church of Mary and St John in Ballincollig, Co Cork (Niall Carson/PA)

The cortege arrives for the funeral of Mark Wills at the Church of Mary and St John in Ballincollig, Co Cork (Niall Carson/PA)

A freak coach accident which claimed the life of a beloved priest and a respected Bus Éireann driver was hailed as a nightmare from which a Cork community is struggling to awaken.

The revelation came as emotional funeral tributes were paid to Fr Con Cronin (72), a Kiltegan Father who spent decades on missionary work in Nigeria, and Bus Éireann driver and father of two, Mark Wills (53).

Both died on Tuesday when a Bus Éireann coach suddenly swerved across Strand Road in Monkstown, Cork and collided with a pedestrian before ploughing into several parked cars.

Fr Cronin - a native of Kealkill in west Cork - celebrated 40 years of his ministry in 2019 and had been based in the Cork Harbour parishes since 2012.

The curate in Passage West and Monkstown had just finished having lunch with a friend when the bus tragedy occurred.


Fr. Con Cronin

Fr. Con Cronin

Fr. Con Cronin


Gardaí are now investigating the theory that the driver may have suffered a medical emergency such as a heart attack in the seconds before the double tragedy.

Both the priest and bus driver were pronounced dead at the scene by emergency services.

Mr Wills had his Requiem Mass celebrated in Ballincollig three hours before the Requiem Mass of Fr Cronin at Coomhola in west Cork - with family, friends, workmates and clergy showing solidarity between both heartbroken families.

Fr Cronin's Requiem Mass was held at the 215 year old St Joseph's Church at Coomhola where Fr Cronin was baptised, received his First Holy Communion and celebrated his first Mass after his ordination.

Because of Covid-19, the Kiltegan Fathers had updated the funeral wishes of their members in 2020 and Fr Cronin chose his beloved Coomhola church for his Requiem Mass.

"Little did Fr Con think a year ago when that was done that in fact we would be here (in St Joseph's) today," the Bishop of Cork & Ross Dr Fintan Gavin said The mourners were led by Fr Cronin's brother, Teddy and sisters-in-law, Margaret and Mary, and extended family.

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Bishop Gavin led a strong clerical contingent at the Mass which included Fr Tomás O'Connor of St Patrick's Missionary Society, Fr Cronin's old classmate Fr Kieran Murphy, family friend and Bishop of Meath Dr Tom Deenihan, Cork Harbour Parish Priest Fr Sean O'Sullivan, Fr John Galvin (remotely) as well as Bantry's Canon Martin O'Driscoll and Fr John Heinhold.

Bishop Gavin said many more wanted to attend but could not because Covid-19 pandemic restrictions - with hundreds following the Requiem Mass via remote streaming.

Mourners were told that Fr Cronin's friends in the clergy, parish and diocese will never forget hearing about the terrible Monkstown tragedy last Tuesday.

Bishop Gavin said Fr Cronin was devoted in his ministry and had helped so many people over his life.

"The quiet ways in which Con touched so many lives that we weren't even aware of. Those people are feeling the loss of Con today.

So many have been touched by his life and his ministry. His deep compassion, his humanity, his openness, he was so non-judgemental - it was at the heart of his missionary (duty), he was always reaching out," he said.

"Shortly after I arrived in Cork two years ago Fr Con wrote to me a very encouraging note. But in it he also gave me a little pep talk about what I should be focusing on in this new role."

"He told me we needed as a Church and a diocese to find a way to open up, to meet those who were no longer 'connecting' with the Church.

He spoke of a new vision or model of the Church. He especially spoke of the need to reach out to what he called 'the young flock'."

Bishop Gavin said the shock over the tragedy struck deep.

"There is a sense of unreality about it. Con's tragic death - in some ways it feels like a bad dream, unfortunately it is not a dream we can wake up from."

"We remember in our prayers today the bus driver, Mark Wills, who also lost his life - we also think of his family and friends."

Bishop Gavin said the Diocese of Cork & Ross had received messages of sympathy over the tragedy from across the world including from the Papal Nuncio and the bishop of a Nigerian diocese that Fr Cronin had helped establish.

The west Cork priest was a member of the St Patrick's Missionary Society for almost 49 years.

The Offertory Gifts reflected what was important in Fr Cronin's life including his radio, a pen and paper and his mobile phone - all underlining his love of communication.

"When the mobile phone came in, Con was made - he was never off it," mourners were told.

Earlier in Ballincollig, Mr Wills was hailed as a respected Bus Éireann driver, "a doting" father, a loyal friend and a devoted family man.

Mourners were led by his children, Cillian and Rebecca, his parents, Stephen and Madelene, and his siblings, Gwen, his twin brother Stephen, Brian and Ken.

Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr Fintan Gavin, and parish priest of Cork’s Harbour Parishes, Fr Sean O’Sullivan, a colleague of Fr Cronin’s, both offered their sympathies to the Wills family.

Offertory gifts included a Manchester United jersey, Mr Wills' Rayban sunglasses and a tie from Highfield RFC.

Mr Wills' son, Cillian, said their entire family were now praying for the family and friends of Fr Cronin.

He also said he wanted his father to be proud of them.

"I hope he is up there now and he is as proud of us as we are of him.

It is tough but I am going to be strong for him because that is what he would want. You can't take anything for granted," he said.

"I can't believe it. It is surreal. It felt like a movie on Tuesday. I can't wrap my head around it. I love him (Mark) and that will never stop."

Brian Wills, Mr Wills brother, paid tribute to the emergency services who attended the scene.

He also thanked everyone at Bus Eireann for their support since the tragedy - particularly his brother's colleagues Rob McSweeney, Michael Travers and Willie O’Callaghan.

“He has left us with cherished memories that we will keep forever with love, sadness and smile,” he said.

“We can’t imagine the pain and heartache you are both feeling at the moment,” he said, directly addressing Mr Wills children.

“You both have so much ahead of you, so many wonderful moments and milestones you both will have, and we are so sad your dad will not be here to share those moments.

“But one thing we do know is that all of us, your dad’s best friends who are all here, all our families, we are all here for ye, no matter what. Your dad is your dad, that love, that bond will never fade.”

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