ONE of the Franciscan friars based in Moyross was in the Santiago region at the time of last week’s horror train crash.
Brother Shawn O’Connor was taking in the pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in Spain’s north-west as news filtered through of the high-speed train crash, which killed 79 people.
The tragedy occurred on the eve of the city’s annual festival of St James, which brings in tourists from around the world.
Thousands of Christian pilgrims traditionally arrive after walking the famous Camino de Santiago trail to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where it is reputed the remains of apostle St James is buried.
One of these was Br Shawn, who is returning to America after a six year stint serving Moyross.
One of the final goals of his time in Europe was to take part in the popular trail, which goes to the roots of the Catholic faith, and attracts thousands of Irish people annually.
As a Friar, Br Shawn is bound to live a basic existence, which means he does not carry a mobile phone.
This led to fears in Moyross that he was caught in the tragedy.
But it was confirmed over the weekend that he was safe and well.
Fr Charles Springer, St Patrick’s Friary, confirmed his colleague was safe.
He said the brothers have been praying for the 79 people who have tragically lost their lives.
“It is obviously very tragic, and very sad. Obviously we are thinking of Br Shawn. But we are also thinking potentially about all the pilgrims who would be on that train going back. Right away, we thought about Br Shawn and what would happen to him. It brings home more deeply the impact tragedies can have on you directly,” Fr Springer told the Limerick Chronicle.
Mungret priest, Revd Eamon Fitzgibbon has arranged a number of pilgrimages concluding in the northern Spanish city.
He said: “I was shocked. It was a huge tragedy, compounded by the fact it occurred on the eve of the feast of St James.”
Moyross Parish priest Fr Tony O’Riordan said the pilgrimage remains popular.
“People benefit greatly from being on the road, meeting other pilgrims and sharing their stories.”
Neil Haran, who works at the University of Limerick, had planned to do the pilgrimage this year.
Despite the tragedy, he remains hopeful of taking the long road to Santiago next year.
“It is an opportunity to have a bit of space from the madness of life, work and family. When I am there, there is something very sacred about the walk. It is a really great opportunity to have a bit of headspace and think more clearly on life,” he said.
Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Kathleen Leddin - who travelled on the same train service three years ago - says that City Council has sent its sincere sympathies to the local authority in Santiago de Compostela.
She said: “I was horrified that anything like this could happen in such a popular place. You would think nowadays train travel is so safe. It is an area which would have such a high amount of tourists, so it is very tragic indeed.”
Spain’s worst rail tragedy in more than 40 years, the derailment has been blamed on the train going too fast.
As of Monday, 79 had died. Seventy remain in hospital, 22 of whom are critical.
The driver has been charged with “79 counts of homicide and numerous offences of bodily harm, all of them committed through professional recklessness,” the Spanish courts said in a statement.