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Priest from Banbridge comforts victims of Berkelely balcony disaster

By Joanne Fleming

A priest from Banbridge has spent an emotional 24 hours with the friends of those killed and injured in the Berkeley balcony tragedy.

Father Aidan McAleenan, who is now based at St Columba's Church near Berkeley, was saying his morning prayers when news of Monday night's accident filtered through at around 9am.

"I was getting texts from Ireland, from friends asking me if I had heard what happened," he said.

"Ireland heard the news before most of us woke up. Social media made a big difference.

"I contacted Father Brendan McBride who is based in an Irish pastoral centre funded by the Irish government and asked if there was anything I could do."

Three hospitals were dealing with the incident and Fr McAleenan was dispatched to the Walnut Creek hospital where two young people who were injured at the party were in surgery. One had a broken femur and the other a punctured lung.

"When I arrived there were nine young ones all from south Dublin," he said.

"They were just absolutely devastated. I had to tell one of the young men another person had died. His best friend."

Fr McAleenan has now been based in the US for 28 years.

"I came out myself on a J1 visa myself," he said. "I could not think of my own parents having to go through that."

When it came to a young man who had lost two friends, he confessed: "I did not know what to say or do."

Fr McAleenan said there was a wonderful sense of community and support at the hospital, which at times felt "more like a wake".

"It was just amazing," he said. "The people there could not have done enough.

"The young guys themselves, it was very hard for them to communicate, but they really stuck together.

"The hospital staff could not have done enough. At one point we prayed together."

Speaking ahead of a special service at the local Christ the Light Cathedral yesterday evening, Fr McAleenan said he would continue to try to play a supportive role in the days ahead.

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