The enormity of the tragedy in the Co Donegal village of Creeslough is "dawning on people" ahead of the first funerals of the victims of Friday's explosion, a local priest has said.

Ten people - four men, three women and three young people - will be laid to rest in the days ahead. They ranged in age from five to 59.

Ten people died in the explosion in Creeslough

The first of the funeral services - of Jessica Gallagher and Martin McGill - will take place on Tuesday.

Father John Joe Duffy said people are "full of grief", adding that the initial numbness, shock and adrenaline "is beginning to wear off".

"The enormity of the tragedy is becoming clearer and clearer," he said.

"As the first victim of the tragedy was brought home you saw people along the road and candles being lit along the road, and when you saw a beautiful young person coming home... it just began more and more to dawn on people."

Members of the public arrive for the wake for Martin McGill

Monday was the start of what will be a heartbreaking week for the families of those killed, with funeral after funeral taking place - part of the nightmare of shock and horror that Bishop Alan McGuckian said this community is now living through.

Leona Harper, who died in the blast, was remembered as a "gem" of a daughter by her parents. Jessica Gallagher was remembered as "a young woman of beauty and grace and kindness and talent" by her aunt Dolores.

On Sunday, numerous vigils were held across Co Donegal with communities showing their solidarity with those at the heart of this tragedy and a candlelit vigil has been held at the Guild Hall in Derry, where a book of condolence has been opened.

A vigil in Letterkenny ahead of the first of the funerals

Books of condolence for the relatives and friends of the deceased have opened at several locations throughout the country and online.

The ten people who died in Friday's explosion at the Applegreen Service Station and apartment block were Catherine O'Donnell, 39, and her 13-year-old son James Monaghan; Robert Garwe, 50, and his five-year-old daughter Shauna Flanagan Garwe; 14-year-old Leona Harper; Jessica Gallagher, 24; James O'Flaherty, 48; Martin McGill, 49; Martina Martin, 49, and 59-year-old Hugh Kelly.

Catholic Primate of Ireland Eamon Martin visited Creeslough and spoke to some of those involved in the rescue effort.

He said the damaged building reminded him of the terrible hurt that had been caused in so many homes.

"For me in a way it conjures up the emptiness that there must be in so many homes, in schools and workplaces and in the community," he said.

"That empty space, but a space which has been filled by love, by care, by prayer but also by some hope because in the midst of this awful disaster there's been a huge community response and a bringing together of everyone to play their part to help one another."

Ten people - four men, three women and three young people - will be laid in the days ahead

Pope Francis expressed his condolences yesterday to all those suffering following the explosion.

In a message to the Bishop of Raphoe, he said he was saddened to learn of the loss of life and the destruction caused by the blast in the village.

A statement read: "His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the loss of life and destruction caused by the explosion in Creeslough and he expresses his spiritual closeness to all those suffering in the aftermath of this tragedy.

"While entrusting the deceased to the merciful love of almighty god, His Holiness implores the divine blessings of consolation and healing upon the injured, the displaced and the families coping with pain of loss.

"As a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord, the Holy Father sends his blessing to all the people of Ireland."

Britain's King Charles also expressed his sadness at the explosion.

In a message, the king said: "We wanted you to know that our most heartfelt sympathy and deepest condolences are with those who have lost loved ones."

An Post has also invited the public to donate to a support fund at all its offices nationwide from today.

'The worst tragedy'

'It reminded me of scenes we had in the 1970s', said one person who arrived on the scene

One of the first responders, Bernard McGinley, has spoken of the "unmerciful sight" when he arrived at the scene of last Friday's explosion in Creeslough.

Mr McGinley, who lives just a quarter of a mile away, heard the explosion and immediately rushed to the village.

"We just tore into what we could. We were very fortunate to be able to come across a girl who was trapped behind shelving, and we were able to rescue her and take her out," he said.

Colin Kilpatrick was one of the first on the scene. "When I heard the bang I didn't know what it was. I realised it was the shop and came running up. I saw a man trapped under a door. I stayed with him until the ambulance came and the boys got a car jack and got it lifted," he said.

"It’s going to be hard. Everybody knows everybody, that’s why it's so hard," he said.

Village GP Dr Paul Stewart knew eight of the victims. He was conducting an evening surgery in nearby Dunfanaghy when the explosion happened.

Dr Stewart said: "I was at the scene an hour after the explosion. I grew up in the north during the Troubles, and it was like a bomb exploded and it reminded me of scenes we had in the 1970s.

"There were three fatalities taken out of the building and ambulances were taking the walking wounded to Letterkenny.

"The top two floors came into the shop. The back of the shop was blown out as well, so some people were able to escape through the back.

"There were local people tearing at the rubble and forming human chains and handing blocks to each other.

"We knew the names of the people who hadn't come home and their family members were worried sick. Our worst fears were later confirmed.

"Creeslough has 400 people, so it's about 2.5% of the population gone. There were heroic efforts made by local people. Two of the shop staff working on Friday went back into the shop twice to rescue people.

"It was a long night waiting for news but there was a huge effort by everyone. It is the worst tragedy we have ever had.

"I don't know how we will put everything back together but we will get lots of support."

First funerals confirmed

Funeral details for some of the victims of Friday's tragedy have been released.

Jessica Gallagher's funeral will be held in Creeslough tomorrow

A death notice published online this morning said the funeral mass for Jessica Gallagher will take place in St Michael's Church, Creeslough, tomorrow morning at 11am with interment afterwards in Doe Cemetery.

Martin McGill

The funeral of Martin McGill, who was from Creeslough, will take place tomorrow at 2pm, also in St Michael's Church in the town.

A death notice published online said he will be sadly missed by his mother, sisters and extended family.

James O'Flaherty was originally from Sydney, Australia

The funeral of James O'Flaherty, from Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, will take place on Wednesday in St Mary's Church, Doirí Beaga.

A death notice said he will be sadly missed by his wife and son, as well as by his brother and extended family.

Today, nurses from Letterkenny hospital lined the road as the remains of Mr O'Flaherty were taken from a chapel in the town.

A joint service will be held for Ms O'Donnell and her son James at St Michael's in Creeslough on Wednesday afternoon.

Investigation into explosion continues

The scene from Creeslough
Boarding has been erected at the site of Friday's explosion

Gardaí continue to investigate the cause of the blast in a building complex that included the service station and a shop, as well as residential apartments.

They said an investigation to determine the cause of the explosion will take some time.

But the explosion is being treated as a "tragic accident". A gas leak is one theory, it is believed.

Eight people were taken to hospital following the explosion. A man in his 20s remains in a critical condition in St James's Hospital in Dublin.

The seven other people are being treated at Letterkenny University Hospital and are said to be in a stable condition.

On Friday, emergency services were on the scene within ten minutes of the blast, which happened at around 3.20pm.

They arrived to find huge concrete blocks, debris and rubble where the building that contained a shop, hairdressers and a number of apartments once stood.

The huge rescue operation involved the Irish Coast Guard, the Coast Guard rescue helicopter 118, Irish Air Corps 112, the Northern Ireland Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS), the Irish Community Air Ambulance, Northern Ireland Search and Rescue, Donegal Mountain Rescue, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service heart team, Donegal County Council Civil Defence as well as dozens of people from the community in Creeslough.

With additional reporting by Sinead Hussey


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