The scale of the tragedy visited upon the relatives of those killed off Buncrana pier is beyond adequate description, the Bishop of Derry has said.
Catholic cleric Donal McKeown and Church of Ireland Bishop for Derry and Raphoe Ken Good together went to the home of Louise McGrotty – who lost her husband, two children and her mother and sister in the drowning accident – to comfort her and other bereaved relations.
“There are no adequate words in the face of such pain,” said Bishop McKeown.
“My thoughts and prayers are with those who are bereaved, in particular a grieving mother. I ask the people of the diocese to keep this family in your thoughts and prayers over the coming days and weeks.”
Bishop Good said the whole community had been touched by news of the deaths.
“Everybody right across the community, right across the whole country and right across the world I think wants to express their solidarity, their sympathy, their standing togetherness and that’s what we want to do,” he said.
The senior church figures were accompanied to the house in the Ballymagroarty area of Derry by the family’s parish priest Father Paddy O’Kane from Holy Family Church.
At the bungalow in St Eithne’s Park there was a steady stream of ashen faced visitors throughout Monday.
Father O’Kane described the tragedy as the worst he had seen in 43 years and said the entire community was struggling to comprehend its magnitude.
“Words fail me to describe the depth of pain and the vastness of this tragedy,” he said.
He added: “I am 43 years a priest and nothing compares to this. This is way beyond anything in my wildest imagination.
“This is the worst thing I have ever had.
“When I went up there this morning people were just standing around – men were just standing looking at the ground not knowing what to say.
“All you can do is just shake their hand and say ‘I’m sorry’. A respectful silence is all I could muster.
“Before I left the house I said the Lord’s Prayer with everyone to give Louise and her family strength.
“We all knew there was a terrible tragedy that happened in Buncrana last night but we didn’t realise it was on our doorstep. Little did I know it was going to come here.”
It is understood the family had celebrated eight-year-old Evan’s first confession just a fortnight ago and were preparing for his first communion in May.
Baby Rionaghac-Ann, the sole survivor of the accident, was christened in January.
Father O’Kane said: “It was a time of celebration. Little did we think that so soon after we were going to have such a tragedy on our doorstep.
“Two weeks ago little Evan made his first confession here and he was about to make his first communion in May. Little did we think that two weeks ago he wouldn’t be here.
“They are inconsolable.”
Speaking at the scene of the tragedy earlier, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the communities in Derry and Donegal would have to throw their arms around the bereaved family.
Father O’Kane said locals had rallied round.
He said: “People are very good in this parish and they will do all they can to help but what can you do and what can you say.”
The funeral, expected to take place on Thursday, is going to be one of the most difficult, the priest concluded.
“I have never had to do anything like this before so I hope the Lord gives me the right words to say to give some sort of consolation and peace,” he said.