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Monday 14 October 2019

'You can see it in them, the whole town is hurting' - community left devastated by Cookstown tragedy

  

Lauren Bullock (17), Morgan Barnard (17) and Connor Currie (16) were killed in the tragedy
Lauren Bullock (17), Morgan Barnard (17) and Connor Currie (16) were killed in the tragedy
Scene: The entrance to the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. Photo: Tony Gavin
Saddened: Greenvale Hotel owner Michael McElhatton expresses his grief over the incident. Photo: Kyran O’Brien

Conor Feehan in Cookstown

The Greenvale Hotel sits at the top of a long driveway off the Drum Road under the Sperrin Mountains in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.

Like many other hotels in Ireland, it is a historic building adapted to provide a warm, local charm with modern convenience.

It is a popular spot for weddings, Sunday carvery, parties and nightlife.

Being on the outskirts of the town, it has room for coaches and busloads of revellers at the weekend, and Sunday night was no different. Many attending the disco were dropped by parents, friends, taxis and coaches, and there was an air of excitement as the anticipation of the night out grew.

We are now all too aware of the tragedy that happened at 9.25pm.

Yesterday morning, the busy Drum Road was lined with the media's cars and satellite vans.

A single ribbon of police tape was pulled taut across the entrance of the hotel, and there was a silent sadness.

There was an eerie sense of calm following the horrific events just hours before as children fought for their lives amid the crush.

Shocked: Catherine McHugh, the principal at St Patrick’s College Dungannon, pays tribute to her student Lauren Bullock, who died in the tragedy. Photo: PA
Shocked: Catherine McHugh, the principal at St Patrick’s College Dungannon, pays tribute to her student Lauren Bullock, who died in the tragedy. Photo: PA

Camera crews with lenses, radio journalists with microphones and print reporters with dictaphones and notebooks gathered outside the venue.

There were politicians too, making an honest effort to convey the feeling of the community. But the looks on their faces spoke more than their words.

A floral tribute outside the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, scene of a tragedy where several young people lost their lives at a St Patrick’s Day party.
Photo: Tony Gavin 18/3/2019
A floral tribute outside the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, scene of a tragedy where several young people lost their lives at a St Patrick’s Day party. Photo: Tony Gavin 18/3/2019

Three teens dead.

Three young lives.

Kyra Coyle, a friend of victim Connor Currie, and her mother Mary bring flowers to the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. Picture: Tony Gavin
Kyra Coyle, a friend of victim Connor Currie, and her mother Mary bring flowers to the Greenvale Hotel in Cookstown, Co Tyrone. Picture: Tony Gavin

Three fractured families.

Local SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone summed up the feelings of everyone as he described the night before as "every parent's worst nightmare".

"The reaction here last night and in the early hours of this morning is one of shock," he added.

"People really are at a low ebb this morning. It's a huge loss in the community.

"Youngsters going out for a disco on St Patrick's night.

"Everybody, their families, all thinking they are safe and well, and then the news turns differently."

As the hours passed, the details of what these teenagers went through filtered out, adding to the pall over the community.

Eyewitnesses told of the chaotic scenes outside the hotel that ended in tragedy.

One of those who died was Lauren Bullock.

She was 17 and lived in the small town of Donaghmore, about a 15-minute drive away and on the outskirts of Dungannon.

The town of Donaghmore has a population of little more than 1,000 and is built on the River Torrent.

Many of the locals live in the hilly cul-de-sac of Ivybank Park.

Yesterday, one house at the back of that quiet estate stood out.

It was Lauren's home, where with quiet reverence locals came to comfort her family.

There wasn't much they could say, but just being there said plenty about how they act in times like these, with unfailing support.

In the village cafe, staff waited the tables at a busy lunchtime, but they said they could read the mood of the town in the eyes of the customers.

"You can see it in them. They're hurting. The whole town is hurting," said one.

Connor Currie (16) and Morgan Barnard (17) both attended St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon.

Outside Lauren's school, St Patrick's College, friends and classmates gathered to share their grief.

So much sadness on the shoulders of those so young.

The mark of this tragedy will linger with everyone in this community for a long time to come.

Irish Independent

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