On a crisp day in New York’s Central Park on Sunday, more than 100 members of the diaspora — many from Creeslough and other parts of Co Donegal — gathered to pay tribute to the victims of the explosion.
They were led on a walk through the park by Aoife Cannon, whose family runs the service station and post office that were destroyed in the explosion. The 26-year-old Creeslough native, who has lived in New York for the past three years, grew up in “the hub of the town”. Her mother, Grace Lafferty, was the postmistress for 27 years until her retirement a few months ago.
Ms Cannon grew up working in the family shop. She used to go swimming with Jessica Gallagher, “a great girl”, who was buried last week. Martin McGill, who was laid to rest on the same day, was a regular at the shop.
“I knew most of [the victims],” Ms Cannon said. “It is so close-knit; a real small community.”
Unable to travel home while she waits on her green card to be processed, she “felt useless” but compelled to do something to help. A GoFundMe she set up with the aim of collecting $2,000 had raised $7,508 as of Sunday night. Ms Cannon said she hopes the funds can be dispersed via the local church to those who need financial support.
“The response has been phenomenal,” she said. “We’ve already reached well over the target on the GoFundMe. People have been amazing.” The walk was a way of showing the community back home they were “in their prayers and thoughts”.
Fellow Creeslough native James McFadden spent the first 26 years of his life in the village before moving to New York, where he’s lived for the past 20 years. He said Central Park brought to mind his time in the Creeslough community. “There are trees everywhere, but the roots are all from the same soil,” he said.
Catherine O’Donnell and her son, James Monaghan, who both died in the explosion, were former neighbours. The oldest victim, Hugh Kelly, used to work with Mr McFadden on roofing jobs in New York in the summers. “He was a good, good man,” he said.
On the eve of the charity walk, the Donegal Association of New York held its 125th-anniversary dance, attended by Donegal soccer legend Packie Bonner. The event also included a fundraiser for the local community.
At the vigil on Sunday, Mr Bonner noted the “good turnout”, particularly among the young.
“These people, when they’re away from home you can always feel that you’re detached a little bit when things happen, but it just shows you how a community can come together and reach out to the people back home,” he said.
The response to the Creeslough tragedy from Ireland and around the world was praised last week by parish priest Fr John Joe Duffy, who said messages of support would “carry us” through the mourning period.
More than €1 million has been raised for the Creeslough Community Support Fund established by the Irish Red Cross to date.
The fund, which has raised €1,094,000 as of Monday afternoon, was set up in collaboration with An Post and Applegreen to provide “rapid and long-term assistance to the Creeslough community”.
“Volunteer members of the Donegal branch of the Irish Red Cross have met some of the relatives and the community and are assisting people at the moment with emergency needs,” a spokesman for the Irish Red Cross said.
“In the medium to long term we’re looking to set up with all the relevant statutory bodies and other community members so that we can support in putting in a long-term structure to take care of medical bills, psychological support and things like that. There is still money coming in, which is unbelievable.”
A GoFundMe page to help assist the families of the deceased has raised over €436,000. It was set up by a Creeslough native now living in Australia who had initially set a target of raising €20,000.