Buncrana pier tragedy worst thing I have dealt with, says priest of 43 years

The funerals of the five pier victims took place at Holy Family Church, Ballymagroarty on Thursday
The funerals of the five pier victims took place at Holy Family Church, Ballymagroarty on Thursday

A priest of 43 years’ experience has declared that conducting the funerals of the five tragic Buncrana pier victims was the worst thing he has ever had to deal with.

Father Patrick O’Kane had conducted the funeral service for them on Thursday, and said the whole affair had left him tired out.

Father Patrick O'Kane said the events of the past week had left him tired out

Father Patrick O'Kane said the events of the past week had left him tired out

Ruth Daniels, Jodie Lee Daniels, Sean McGrotty, Mark McGrotty and Evan McGrotty died when the car they were in slipped from a pier into Lough Swilly, Co Donegal, on Sunday evening.

Asked whether the thoughts and prayers of well-wishers will be of comfort to Sean’s Londonderry partner Louise – who was not present when the accident claimed his life and that of her mother Ruth, sister Jodie Lee, and sons Mark and Evan – he said: “It’s bound to be. But poor Louise.

“She’s a right brave girl, a very strong girl.

“But whenever all the fuss settles down and its back to as near normal as it could ever be for her, there’s going to be a terrible emptiness in the house. There’s going to be silence in the house.”

He added: “This was the worst situation I ever had.

“I was ordained in 1973. I’ve had suicides. I’ve done funerals for people who were shot in the Troubles.

“I’ve done a husband and wife, who were killed together in a car accident once.

“But this has been the worst ever I’ve had to do.”

He has heard talk of some fundraising efforts being made for the relatives of the victims, and as he spoke to the News Letter on the phone, some well-wishers came by his parish office to leave in some cash.

He said that a requiem mass for the victims is due to be held next week, but that details had not been confirmed.

Asked how he had reacted to the aftermath of the tragedy, he said he was “very tired”.

“My priest friends are saying to me to go an take a wee break,” he said. “But this [Easter] is a very busy time for a priest.”

Tempted to ask: Is there a God?

The sole survivor of the tragedy was baby Rionaghac-Ann, who was passed from the window of the stricken car to heroic rescuer Davitt Walsh, who brought her back to land.

Louise has described her surviving child as being her “only reason to go on living”.

In Father O’Kane’s speaking notes for the funeral, he had written: “There comes a time when you struggle with doubt and darkness, when you stand on the brink of emptiness and despair, of anguish, fear and loneliness, that you are tempted to ask ‘Is there a God? And if there is, where is He now? If you are a God of kindness and compassion, come out of your hiding place and show yourself’!”

In his closing prayers, he implored God to “assure us of your unconditional love when in times like today we doubt or question the message that you care”.