Belfast Telegraph

Derrylin now a community left mourning for lost strangers in their midst

By Victoria Leonard

The tragic loss of life in Derrylin brought an outpouring of grief from the local community, with neighbours, spiritual and political leaders uniting to offer their condolences.

However, this tragedy differs in one key aspect.

While locals undoubtedly desire to offer support, their good intentions have no focal point because there is no known family to rally behind.

The fact that police have not yet confirmed the identities of the deceased or the final death toll adds to the sense of a tragedy in limbo.

While the family had been living in Derrylin for around 18 months, no one knows much about them.

Neighbours told how the family, who are believed to come from the north of England and had previously lived in the Republic, were always "friendly and polite" when their paths crossed.

However, a recurring theme was that they "kept themselves to themselves".

The only person able to identify those feared to have lost their lives is the landlord of the house that was destroyed.

Tommy Fee said his tenants were a "nice family" who, again, "kept themselves to themselves".

He described Edward Gossett (16) as a "bit of a handyman" and his 19-year-old sister Diane's child as a "wee baby girl who was learning to walk".

Mr Fee said that Edward, Diane and her child lived in the house with the siblings' mother Crystal and another man, who he named as Sam Quinn.

Nothing more is known.

Amidst the uncertainty, spiritual leaders are stepping forward to fill the void.

Church of Ireland minister Rev Alastair Donaldson (35) is considering organising a cross-community vigil to give the village a way to come to terms with the devastating incident.

Rev Donaldson is a recent arrival in Derrylin, having moved to the area just last month with his wife Elise (32) and blue-eyed, blond-haired toddler Josiah (15 months).

The Donaldsons have been quickly welcomed into the close-knit community, a fact they say makes it harder to fathom the lack of knowledge surrounding those who perished.

"I think what shocks the community as much as the tragedy is that they didn't know the family very well," said Elise, as her small son toddled at her feet. "A lot of people already know who we are, even though we have only been here six weeks.

"That speaks volumes about the kind of community it is. It makes you wonder how many people are on your own doorstep that you don't know."

Rev Donaldson said he was caring for little Josiah when news of the tragedy filtered through.

"As I was playing with my wee son something so unthinkable was going on half-a-mile down the road," he reflected. "It's particularly sad if, as people are saying, that a young child of around Josiah's age lost her life.

"I have just been thinking about Mother's Day, and a mother and child may be among those who died.

"It's just another wee family, a human tragedy.

"It does seem strange that in a close-knit rural community the family aren't known."

The cleric said that prayers were offered for the family and village on the night of the tragedy, and will be offered again on Sunday.

"This is one of the worst tragedies to happen in Derrylin since the Troubles," he added.

"You are left wondering whether there will be anybody to support and where any potential funeral arrangements will take place.

"It's very hard in one sense to pray for a situation that has so many holes in it, but God knows everything that has went on and why and what the outcome will be.

"Even if there are no family members, the people who tried to rescue the family may need support and may still be in shock themselves.

"I will be in touch with the local priest, Father Gerry Alwill.

"I will do everything I can to comfort the community at this difficult time."

Belfast Telegraph

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