'I jumped in between two headstones' - Pensioner seriously injured as car speeds through packed graveyard during blessing

Man seriously injured and another arrestedPriest tried to stop vehicle

The scene in St Patrick's cemetery, Dowdallshill in Dundalk, where several people have been injured after a car was driven into a crowd. Photo: PA

Elaine Keogh and Robin Schiller

People jumped behind gravestones and ran for their lives after a car was driven at high speed through a packed graveyard, seriously injuring one man.

Parish priest Fr Mark O'Hagan was officiating at the annual blessing of the graves at St Patrick's Cemetery, Dowdallshill, Dundalk, Co Louth, when the chaos unfolded at around 3.40pm yesterday.

"I was on the podium and it was near the end of the service when I heard screaming and shouting," he said. "I looked to my left and could see people running, screaming and shouting."

Fr O'Hagan rang gardaí telling them "there is a mad man in the graveyard flying through at speed".

He said the car flew past him and into the car park where it hit a number of vehicles before trying to head back the way it had come.

Fr O'Hagan said he put his hand out as if to try to stop it and the car then tried to mount the kerb towards him and he ran out of the way.

Damage: A car that was damaged after hitting other vehicles. Photo: PA

He shouted at people to get off the footpath and he had it announced through the public address system that a man had been hit and people should get off the footpath. "It was a worst nightmare, it was just frightful," he said.

Gardaí said a pensioner was seriously injured and several more people suffered superficial injuries.

The injured man is understood to have hit his head when he fell to the ground.

He was taken by ambulance to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.He was said to be conscious and talking as he was taken from the graveyard.

Fr Mark O’Hagan. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson

Fr O'Hagan said he sent "our best wishes to the injured man and his family, our thoughts are with them".

One woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said: "No one knew what was happening.

"I heard the sound of the car speeding and heard a bang and smoke rising. I heard what sounded like a car reversing and going back again.

"I jumped in between two headstones to be out of the way," she added.

She believed the car used had been earlier driven into the graveyard and parked.

Sometime later a man was seen getting into the vehicle. The car then reversed and hit a man.

The woman said there were thousands of people at the service and a number of cars drive into the cemetery every year as well as park in the official car park.

Another woman who was at the blessing said: "He drove towards where we were, I jumped out of the way. People were jumping out of the way all over the place.

"It was driven at speed past where the priests were and it went out then and hit cars in the car park.

"Someone said there was a girl playing in the footpath a minute before it all happened. I am shaking. People were crying and shouting with the shock of it all."

A man named Darren, who declined to give his surname, said the incident "felt like a terrorist attack" due to the number of frightened people.

Gardaí arrested a man in his late 20s, believed to be the driver of the car, at the scene.

He was brought to Dundalk garda station where he was being detained last night under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984.

Gardaí appealed for witnesses and anyone with video footage of the incident to contact them.