Creeslough digger driver who worked for 24 hours ‘done what anyone else would have done’

Henry Gallagher speaks for first time in new TG4 documentary about aftermath of Donegal disaster

A digger driver who worked for 24 hours until the body of the last of the Creeslough explosion victims was recovered from the rubble has said he did what anyone else would have done.

“I wanted them out. I would have stayed in that digger for ages after that just until I got the bodies out,” Henry Gallagher said in his first public comments about the tragedy in Co Donegal last year.

Mr Gallagher was speaking to TG4 for the opening programme of its new current affairs series, Iniúchadh TG4, which begins next Wednesday. It investigates how people in Creeslough came together in the immediate aftermath of the explosion and searched through the debris to try to rescue their neighbours before the emergency services arrived.

Lorry driver Colin Kilpatrick, from Raphoe, Co Donegal, was making a delivery in Creeslough when he witnessed the explosion and was among the first rescuers at the garage forecourt. He managed to help free one of the injured by using a car jack to lift concrete slabs.


“People got out and people didn’t get out, but what we done worked,” he said.

Ten people – Shauna Flanagan Garwe (5); her father Robert Garwe (50); James Monaghan (13); his mother Catherine O’Donnell (39); Leona Harper (14); Jessica Gallagher (24); James O’Flaherty (48); Martina Martin (49); Martin McGill (49); and Hugh Kelly (59) – died in the explosion at the Applegreen service station and apartment complex in the village last October.

The cause of the blast remains under investigation. One line of inquiry is that it was an accidental gas explosion.

Mr Gallagher (47), from Treantagh near Letterkenny, told TG4 he volunteered to take part in the recovery operation following a plea for help from fire officers at the scene.

“One of the lead firemen came up to me and described that there’s so many bodies inside, and we can’t get at them,” he said.

He remained in the cab of his digger for 24 hours removing rubble and said he was spurred on by the sight of grieving relatives in his rear-view mirrors.

“You just see a river of high vis vests [behind me] and I know that among that, there are families waiting on news,” he said. “The only way that they are going to get the news of a loved one being taken out, is for me to get in.”

He refused to stop working until he had recovered the last of the bodies, that of Leona Harper. At her funeral, her mother, Donna, thanked Mr Gallagher for working until he found her daughter.

“I done what any other person would have done,” Mr Gallagher said. “The ordinary people were amazing. I mean, I’ve heard stories of people running into the building, people bringing other people out of the building. They were taking people out and they were crying [and] they were screaming. Any person we took out, wasn’t crying or screaming.”

The programme is the first in a new six-part monthly current affairs and investigative documentary series that will look behind the headlines of significant Irish news stories.

Presented by award-winning Belfast-based investigative journalist Kevin Magee, it is the first new current affairs strand made in Irish for a number of years and will be made in Belfast for TG4 by Clean Slate TV.

“At the time of the tragic event in Creeslough, we heard about the extraordinary bravery and courage of the first wave of rescuers, local people who ran to help their trapped neighbours before the emergency services got there,” said Mr Magee.

“This programme gives the ordinary people who helped a voice and hears in their own words the extraordinary things they did, often at great danger to themselves in the face of appalling adversity.”

Iniúchadh TG4 is on TG4 on Wednesday, February 8th, at 9.30pm. It will also be available to view worldwide on the TG4 Player.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times