- 20 Mar 19
The tragic events in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone on St. Patricks Day have created a wave of sympathy for the families and the townspeople. Beyond their immediate cataclysmic feelings of grief and loss, there is a wider question too: are there similar catastrophes waiting to happen elsewhere in Ireland?
We are all familiar by now with the raw facts of what happened in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone. Three young teenagers lost their lives, queueing for a disco, which was due to take place at the Greenvale Hotel, on the evening of St. Patrick's Day. They were named as Connor Currie, Lauren Bullock and Morgan Barnard.
It would be impossible even to imagine the appalling grief that parents, and other family members, of the three deceased are now going through. And that grief extends to the entire town. There is a burning sense that this tragedy involved the utterly unnecessary, senseless loss of human life.
In the aftermath, it was announced today that two men had been arrested on suspicion of what has been termed “corporate manslaughter.” The men, aged 52 and 40, were taken to Dungannon Custody Suite for questioning. They have not yet been named.
Local promoters all over Ireland will be looking closely at these developments – with many of them doubtless thinking “Christ, it might have been me in the centre of this."
Descriptions of what happened at around 9.30pm, at the fatal scene in Cookstown, have been utterly harrowing. As the crowd built up, it seems that those at the back started to push. A crush developed. It is impossible for people to understand the sheer power of a crowd until they have been caught in a situation where a mass of bodies takes on its own impossible-to-withstand momentum. The truth, it seems, is that it is lucky that others did not die as well.
"As I looked down I could see multiple bodies underneath me and as I looked up I could see multiple bodies on top of me,” one girl who was queueing to get into the disco said. "It was the most traumatic, frightening and stressful moment of my life."
"People just started to fall but as one person fell, another went down," Ebney Johnston told RTÉ. "As a person went to lift another person up, they were pushing and shoving, and another person would fall, which caused a build-up of everybody lying there.
"We looked down and you could just see everybody lying there and then you could just see Connor himself being took out. It was just such a tragic situation. We are just all so lucky that it was not any of us.
"We nearly feel guilty because it was not us, we nearly feel bad, the families, what they are going through. It is awful.”
What was it that triggered the pushing and shoving and the panic that ensued, which led to three deaths? Why was there no plan in place to deal with the possibility of a big crowd gathering? Why were so many underage teenagers apparently trying to get into a disco in a licensed premises?
The Police Service of Northern Ireland – the PSNI – have moved to reassure parents that the age of people queueing to get into the venue will not be the focus of their investigations. They are asking for the youngsters to come forward to tell the authorities what they saw.
“We need to know what you saw, so the heartbroken families of Connor, Lauren and Morgan know what happened to their children,” Chief Superintendent Murray, of the PSNI, said today.
"I would urge parents to talk with your children, support them and encourage them to come forward and tell their story to police, so we can get an accurate picture of events that night.
"Talk to your children, reassure them. We know they may be scared. But again, I can assure you, we are only interested in establishing what happened. Their account of events on Sunday night could be crucial to establishing how Connor, Lauren and Morgan died.”
For promoters, however, these tragic events raise fundamental questions about preparation, security, what happens when more people turn up than might have been expected, and how crowds can be controlled. And about why, in this instance, events spiralled so horribly and irretrievably out of control.
One promoter talked to Hot Press about the difficulties that can arise if teenagers have had a few drinks in advance of a club night, as happens very often often in Dublin and other major urban centres. There is no evidence whatsoever that this was the case in Cookstown. But many promoters around Ireland are familiar too with the feeling of dread when situations start to get out of hand – and the sense of relief that comes when everything does calm down.
For the moment, in Cookstown there is the stunned grieving of a community and especially of the immediate families. And there is also the beginning of what will have to be a painstaking investigation on the part of the PSNI. For those involved in the hotel and the event, there are questions that they must be asking of themselves. How and why did this happen? Could we have predicted the potential dangers? And if we had, might we have avoided the calamity that took place?
These are questions that promoters at every level will have to ask themselves now. In relation to Cookstown, the hope is that in the long run there will be compassion and empathy that extends to all. But for now, it is the families of Lauren Bullock, Connor Currie and Morgan Barnard who are most in need of our sympathy and our care. Our hearts go out to them. It is not of much help to say that we all share in this nightmare. But it is true. They carry the burden. We can merely try to lift just a little bit of the weight off their tragic shoulders.