FOUR hundred people gathered in Dublin last night for a poignant event honouring the strength, courage and kindness of the people of Creeslough as they received the Donegal Person of the Year Award 2022.

In other years, the Donegal Association Dublin gala ball celebrates one person who has made remarkable achievements promoting Donegal.

This year was unique and more poignant in many ways. Six months on from the devastating tragedy of October 7th, the Dublin committee sought to respectfully recognise the Creeslough community and express sympathy to the families who lost loved ones.

At the heart of the ceremony was a musical tribute to the 10 victims of the tragedy and the bereaved.

“We felt that this year, a fitting presentation may not be a trophy or a plaque as would normally be the case, but a piece of everlasting culture and heritage,” said Elaine Caffrey, President of the Donegal Association Dublin

“We are honoured to have commissioned renowned composer and fiddle player Matt McGranaghan to create a very special piece of music as the award.”

Composer and fiddle player Mark McGranaghan at the Donegal Person of the Year Gala Award Dinner

The Bonnington Hotel ballroom fell silent in sorrowful reflection as Castlefinn musician Matt McGranaghan performed the bespoke piece ‘Olldáimh’ for the first time, with Denise Roper accompanying on piano.

The musical piece was born out of the ten notes that spell Creeslough. Near the end of the piece, ten individual notes sound out, each one dedicated to the ten victims of the explosion: five-year-old Shauna Flanagan Garwe and her dad Robert Garwe, 50, Catherine O’Donnell, 39, and her son James Monaghan, 13, Leona Harper, 14, Jessica Gallagher, 24, James O’Flaherty, 48, Martin McGill, 49, Martina Martin, 49 and Hugh Kelly, 59.

Listen to Olldáimh here:

Kevin McFadden, the current chairperson of the Donegal Association Dublin, who is from Carrigart and has family from Creeslough, said the grief felt by the bereaved families was beyond comprehension. He lead a toast to the late Catherine O’Donnell, whose 40th birthday would have fallen on April 15th. A second toast honoured all the people of Creeslough.

Addressing the community, he said: “Your reaction to this terrible disaster on the 7th of October made me extremely proud to be from Donegal.

“That is why we are here, for us to let you know that the pride we felt witnessing your strength, courage, kindness, for neighbours, friends and strangers in the days that followed was humbling and inspiring. We wish you more strength, courage, kindness and hope in the months and weeks ahead.”

Donegal Association Dublin President Elaine Caffrey, Mairead Devine, Donegal County Council, Donegal County Council CE John McLaughlin and Kevin McFadden, Chairperson of the Donegal Association Dublin at the Donegal Person of the Year Gala Award Dinner

In presenting the award to Creeslough community representatives, Elaine Caffrey said: “In the years to come Creeslough will not only be known as home to Bridie Gallagher, the famous St. Michael’s Church, Ards Friary, Doe Castle, Kay McNulty, and Muckish Mountain but as home to some of the kindest bravest souls we ever hope to meet and we are privileged to recognised those people of Creeslough here tonight.”

Donegal Person of the Year 2019 – 2021 Noel Cunningham said it was a source of huge pride to hand over the title to the people of Creeslough, who he said “showed the world what community was all about.”

He said he would be ever grateful to have had the honour of being Donegal’s ambassador: “As long as I live and as long as I have a breath to draw, I will draw that breath in love of my Donegal and in love of all of you, the commnity, who make me feel I am part of something very special.”

Noreen D’Arcy and Noel Cunningham at the Donegal Person of the Year Gala Award Dinner

A charity raffle was held in support of three organisations that worked at the scene of the October tragedy: Search and Rescue Dog Association Ireland North, Mevagh Fire Brigade and Donegal Mountain Rescue.

Donegal Association Dublin has a long and important history of supporting communities in times of need. It all started on the 9th November 1935, when the Arranmore boat disaster took the lives of 19 islanders. Immediately Donegal people in Dublin came together to offer whatever help they could. The first meeting led to the foundation of the Donegal Association – a committee that has grown in strength and numbers over the past 88 years.

Saturday’s gala dinner was a very different night than previous years, but for the association, it was an important show of solidarity.

The Donegal Association Dublin Committee

The evening drew to a close with two special performances from the Donegal Tenors and Moya Brennan her husband Tim Jarvis and daughter Aisling, and Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh and her daughter Nia Byrne. The entertainment finished out with an ode to Creeslough – ‘The Homes of Donegal’.

For your hearts are like your mountains
In the homes of Donegal

Nia Byrne, Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh and Moya Brennan perform at the Donegal Person of the Year Gala Award Dinner

The Donegal Tenors, Moya Brennan, Tim Jarvis, Aisling Jarvis, Mairead Ní Mhaonaigh and Nia Byrne perform at the Donegal Person of the Year Gala Award Dinner