By Cate McCurry, PA
As the coffins of Jessica Gallagher and Martin McGill were carried into the Catholic church in Creeslough, the Muckish mountain was in clear view, an-ever present and reassuring feature in the village landscape.
Hundreds of mourners huddled in small groups, the shock and disbelief at the tragedy that has engulfed the community still palpable.
The grey sky was filled with silence as large crowds awaited for the coffins carrying Ms Gallagher, 24, and Mr McGill, 49.
The people of the small, tight-knit community of Creeslough and nearby are exhausted from the grief and sleepless nights.
Like the mist that hangs over Muckish mountain, the looming feeling of saying goodbye to loved ones weighs heavy on their minds.
Creeslough is a pretty Co Donegal village tucked away in the corner of the north west of Ireland.
Mourners began to gather an hour before the beginning of Ms Gallagher’s funeral service on Tuesday morning. They stood in a long line to the door of St Michael’s chapel to say goodbye to a friend and neighbour.
A lone garda on a motorbike with flashing blue lights marked the arrival of the hearse.
There was only the sound of the hearse tyres humming on the road as it carried Ms Gallagher’s remains to the chapel.
As mourners wiped away silent tears, her coffin was carried into the church by six men.
The smell of pink lilies, candles and incense greeted mourners as they slowly went inside.
The familiar and comforting voice of Father John Joe Duffy filled the air, and the silence was often pierced by laughter as the he recalled stories of how Ms Gallagher, a practical joker, had been known to put seaweed in people’s beds.
He spoke of her love of the mountain of Muckish and how she used to paint it on Christmas cards for loved ones.
“There are days in this locality when we look out at the mountain of Muckish that inspired Jessica in life and there are days when we can clearly see Muckish as we can see it now,” he told mourners.
“There are nights and we can clearly see Muckish in the moonlight, which she loved painting, and then there are days and there is a pall of mist or fog and we cannot see Muckish.
“There are nights when it is dark without moonlight and we cannot see Muckish.
“But the reality of Muckish is there, it is there in the fog or mist, it is there when the night is dark and our eyes cannot carry our sight that far to see.
“Dear friends, that is true of heaven also. You and I cannot see into heaven, we cannot see Jessica’s physical presence.
“But as real as Muckish is in the mist and in the dark night, heaven is there and is real.”
The design of St Michael’s Church reflects the humped form of Muckish mountain and its rugged landscape.
A number of emergency responders who took part in the recovery operation also attended the funeral as did survivors of the blast.
President Michael D Higgins was represented at both funerals by his aide-de-camp.
A framed photograph of Ms Gallagher and a shirt she had been making, one of her first fashion commissions, were displayed during the service.
She was then carried out of the chapel to the sounds of power ballad The Climb, by Miley Cyrus, to represent life’s difficult journeys.
Later in the afternoon, as the community said to goodbye to one member, many prepared again to say a final farewell to another local.
A lone piper, Kieran Kennedy, led Mr McGill’s coffin to St Michael’s Church, playing Highland Cathedral and Fate of Our Fathers.
The cortege was followed by his mother, flanked by family members, as they made the difficult journey to the chapel.
Mr McGill’s caring nature was ever present in his family’s life, particularly his mother, who he adored.
A number of items were brought to the altar to represent a part of his life, including his Celtic shirt, Lucozade and a loaf of bread.
The items were a sign of a simple life he loved, and a reminder of the everyday items people were buying in the shop when it collapsed around them.
Some mourners wore green and white, a nod to his love of the Scottish football team.
In his homily, Fr Duffy told mourners Mr McGill was dedicated to caring for his mother Mary.
“Martin was a carer who was filled with love, filled with kindness and compassion,” the priest said.
“Despite the awful, horrible tragedy that has struck at the very heart of this community, and broken our hearts, from the very first moment aren’t those the key words that have been in action in this community but have always been in action in this community.”
Fr Duffy said Mr McGill has been reunited with his recently deceased father Joseph.
“His strength was in that he was a caring person,” he added.
“And the fact that he was a caring person, a person of kindness and compassion, gave him strength when he had to face bereavement, and not very long ago when he had to say goodbye to his dad, which was most difficult for him.”
Fr Duffy said it would have meant a lot to him that Celtic had made a donation to a support fund for the Creeslough victims and that the club’s players will wear black armbands at their next match as a mark of respect.
Mourners sang along to You’ll Never Walk Alone to end the service and mark the start of a difficult journey ahead for his loved ones.
The Gallagher and McGill families were keen to thank the people of Creeslough, nearby communities and the public for the support in their darkest days.
The support has been widespread, from the four corners of the island of Ireland, to Great Britain, Australia, the US and Asia. The grief has touched the lives of many who have wanted to help in a time of what seems like helplessness.
Ms Gallagher and Mr McGill were buried at Doe Cemetery.