A horrified priest has revealed his congregation’s terror when a gang of travellers stormed a funeral mass with slash hooks and sledge hammers.
Fr Neil O’Donoghue said he thought a bomb had been left in the church when chaos suddenly broke out, and a frantic crowd pushed him into the sacristy of St Nicholas’s church in Dundalk on Monday.
The congregation - including the young family of the deceased man Martin Ward, 26 – ran for their lives when the gang brandished the weapons.
“It was a funeral mass, and the young man who died was married with three small children. Half way through the funeral, there was a commotion,” Fr O’Donoghue said.
“Everyone started running for the doors, and it was like a riot had just broken out.”
“To be honest, I thought there was a bomb in the church. A tide of people ran onto the altar and I got pushed into the sacristy.”
“A group of men stormed the church with hooks, sledge hammers and hatchets, and a taser was recovered from the scene as well.”
He said: “I believe what got the pandemonium going was that they threw an axe or two in the door.”
Fr O’Donoghue believes it was “a miracle” that no one was killed in the attack.
By the time gardai arrived at the scene, the gang had fled, but gardai surrounded the church for protection and Fr O’Donoghue continued with the mass.
“I continued with the funeral mass, but it was a quick mass at that stage. The immediate family and around 200 others were left. I’d say a few hundred people left by that stage.”
“The guards accompanied us to the graveyard, and the graveyard was sealed off by them then,” the priest continued.
“My last job had been in the south Bronx in New York and I never saw something like this,” he said.
Fr O'Donoghue said the incident “was enough for everyone to run for their lives.”
The priest said: “I’d like to underline what a tragedy it was for three young children and a young woman to have that happen while they were at the funeral.”
“It really was so unfair on [the children].”
A garda spokesperson said they are investigating the incident, and no arrests have been made yet.
“Gardai in Dundalk are investigating a public order dispute involving a number of males.”
“A dispute took place outside St Nicholas’s church at 12.50pm.”
“There were no reports of injuries. The group involved fled the scene before gardai arrived, and no arrests were made at the scene.”
“Investigations are ongoing,” the spokesperson added.