Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 30 September 2014

New Zealand disaster brings grief to Irish border village

Debris litter central Christchurch, New Zealand, following an earthquake Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011. A powerful earthquake collapsed buildings at the height of a busy workday killing at least 65 people and trapping dozens in one of the country's worst natural disasters. (AP Photo/New Zealand Herald, Mark Mitchell) NEW ZEALAND OUT, AUSTRALIA OUT
A group of people travel with Glacier Explorers to see one of the many icebergs that caved into Tasman Lake as a result of the 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, Tuesday, February 22, 2011. The quake hit at the height of a busy workday, toppling tall buildings and churches, crushing buses and killing dozens of people in one of the country's worst natural disasters. (AP Photo/NZPA, Denis Callesen) NEW ZEALAND OUT, NO ARCHIVES, NO SALES
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 22: Rescuers search for survivors in a collapsed building in Manchester Street on February 22, 2011 in Christchurch, New Zealand. The 6.3 magnitude earthquake - an aftershock of the 7.1 magnitude quake on September 4 - struck 20km southeast of Christchurch at around 1pm local time, with initial reports suggesting damage and fatalities far exceeding the initial quake. (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

One is a sprawling city on New Zealand’s south island, the other a close-knit, rural community nestled just across the Irish border.

Separated by thousands of miles, on opposite sides of the world, there is little to connect Christchurch to the Co Monaghan parish of Truagh. But yesterday, these two places were brought together by tragedy.

Despite emigrating to Christchurch some years previously, Owen McKenna, a 41-year-old psychiatric nurse, was still well known in Truagh. He died in the earthquake as he was returning from a shopping trip. Reports said his car was crushed under a falling building.

His wife Sarah, a New Zealand national, and their children Grace (7) and Tadhg — who turns four tomorrow — were away visiting her family on another island as the disaster struck.

Last night his relatives in Ireland were planning to travel to New Zealand to bring his body home for burial.

Special prayers were said for Owen, and the other victims of the earthquake, in the local Catholic church yesterday.

Fr Nolan said the family’s faith was helping them deal with the tragedy. “They are devastated of course, but they are people of great faith,” he said.

Friends and neighbours in Truagh have fond memories of Owen growing up in the area, a quiet community situated between Aughnacloy and Emyvale.

Yesterday, a steady stream of mourners visited the family home, in the townland of Brackagh, while cars lined the road outside.

Like many rural parishes, one of the focal points is the GAA club. The McKenna family are closely associated with Truagh Gaels GAC.

Club official Adrian Sherry said members were shocked by the tragedy.

“Owen would always have attended a match any time he was back home,” he said. “It is very sad for all of us.”

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