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September 26th 2001

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Donegal Shares New York’s Grief
Son of prominent local family missing
by Paddy Meehan

The Meehan family - Back: Shaun, Eugene, Michael, Paul, Kevin, Damien, Chris. Front: Kitty and Janine

Tuesday 11th September 2001 - one of those rare days when the Autumn sun shone brightly in this Northwest corner of Ireland, with people of this little town of Donegal going about their lives, meeting and exchanging greetings with friends and neighbours on our streets. I am sure it was the same throughout the rest of Ireland and indeed in many corners of the world - people going about their daily business - travelling to work, housewives meeting in local coffee shops, mothers clearing up the breakfast dishes, kissing their children and loved ones as they departed for work and school, businessmen at their desks, dealing and negotiating, all looking forward at the end of the day to the usual evening family reunions. Why did it have to be such a beautiful day?

At 1.45pm. Irish, 8.45am. U.S. time - out of a clear blue Manhattan sky - American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of New York’s World Trade Centre. Eighteen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower. When I heard the news on my car radio, I assumed that the first crash was a small light aircraft and the damage would be minimal.

However this assumption changed as I watched television coverage of the second aircraft slicing through the south tower like a diver into water and the subsequent collapse of both towers. My immediate thoughts were, I suppose, selfish ones, worrying only of the safety of Irish people working in the area. In particular, my concern was for my niece Evanna and a friend of both Leah and I, Patrick Brennan, whose mother Mary (Cannon) came from the Inver area. Patrick worked for Fidelity Investments whose offices were on Lower Broadway, the next street over from the World Trade Center. Speaking to him last Thursday, he told me that on that morning he had a doctor’s appointment. He was usually seated at his desk at 8.30am., but was half an hour late and just disembarking from his bus on Washington Street when the first plane hit the north tower. The subsequent collapse of both towers has left the Fidelity Investments in a dangerous state and it will be at least six months before they are able to return to it.

As luck would have it, my niece Evanna (Meehan), daughter of Joel and Roisin, who is presently studying/working in the Broadway area of Manhattan, was not in the city on that fateful day, thank God. In that eighteen minutes, just an instant, the daily goings-on of world society was to change forever - an evil had entered and embraced our lives.

As the day of 11th September wore on, news filtering from the devasted site became much worse than at first thought. The hearts and prayers of this small community went out in particular to one Donegal/New York family - that of Mike and Peggy Meehan, parents of Damien Meehan who was working with a financial services company on the 88th floor of the WTC and who, along with seventy of his colleagues, is one of the 6,300 missing.

I spoke to Hughie, Mike’s brother at his home in St. Josephs Avenue and he told me of the families sorrow and the devastation of Damien’s wife Joanne and young son Damien Jnr. Joanne is also expecting a second child in January.

One of a proud family of seven boys and two girls, 33 year old Damien, who was New York born, played football with NY Donegal team and was on the visiting Gaelic team which came over on an Irish tour some years ago, playing several games in Co. Donegal. The whole Meehan family is involved in the Donegal Association of which father Mike is a past President. Mike himself is a tireless worker, caring passionately for the welfare of many young Irish emigrants in New York, making sure they are looked after and cared for.

There are many in New York, and indeed Ireland, who owe Mike Meehan so much. Mike’s father was the late, well known and respected Co. Cllr Christy Meehan who had a family pub business on Main Street, Donegal. Peggy comes from the Drimnaherk area (Letterbarrow) where her brother Manus Meehan still resides.

It is ironic that Mike and Peggy were scheduled to arrive in Donegal last weekend. They were to travel on a pilgrimage, along with brother Hughie and his wife Madge, to Medujorge.

Damien’s brothers Kevin and Eugene, both firemen in New York, thankfully were on a day’s leave on the fateful 11th. September, but were called in upon the collapse of both buildings. His other brother Michael is a police officer who is now involved in the search and rescue effort. This is the second sorrow to befall the Meehan family. Recently Damien’s uncle Chris, who resided in Coventry England passed away suddenly.

There are many other stories involving Donegal people. Capt. Paul McCormack and his brother Brendan, are both members of the NYPD. Paul has featured regularly on television in the search and rescue efforts. Gerard Timoney - son of Gerry and Mae (Doonan) is also a member of the NYPD and a first cousin of the Meehans. May God watch over all of them and keep them safe. Paul and Brendan are sons of Peter (Ballybofey) and Theresa (nee Hanna), Castle Street, Donegal.

Leah and I had the honour of attending the NY/Donegal Association’s A.G.M. in The Armoury Manhattan N.Y. in November 1999 at which Sean McGovern (Ballyshannon) was elected President. I spoke with both Sean and his brother Michael on the night. Michael’s son-in-law, Bill, who worked for an insurance company on the 100th floor of the WTC, is also missing. Donegal’s thoughts and prayers are also with the McGovern families and Bill’s wife Patricia and young son Matthew.

The scenes on television over the past week have brought tears to the eyes of many throughout the world. While this is only a small town newspaper - if it is any consolation to those who are missing loved ones - you are in our daily thoughts and prayers. You are all heroes, your policemen, fire-fighters, rescue workers, emergency services, medical corps and you, the people of New York, who must now pick up on your previous everyday practices and carry on. Life will be never be the same as it was before that fateful day. But that was then - this is now. Things have unequivocally changed and a totally new scenario must be faced. But, as was said in Yankee Stadium on Sunday evening, fear must be conquered and, with the fortitude and courage shown since the event, you Americans will fight back, gather strength and stride out to make your city and your country once more the bastion of valour and freedom for the peace loving people of the world.

For the many who are lost and missing - it is with reverence and great respect that I quote the last verses of one of the most beautiful songs ever composed, ‘Danny Boy’ - lyrics by Co. Derry man Fred Weatherly in 1910. Mystery surrounds the reason for these words -one theory suggests Fred Weatherly foresaw the death of his son Danny who was killed in the First World War.

Danny Boy

‘But when ye come and all the flowers are dying
if I am dead as dead I well may be
Ye’ll come and find the place where I am lying
and kneel and say an Ave there for me.

And I shall hear tho’ soft you tread above me
and all my grave will warmer sweeter be
If you will bend and tell me that you love me
Then I shall sleep in peace until you come to me”.

Peg and Mike Meehan

Donegal Times, on behalf of the people in our community, extends sincere sympathy to our compatriots in New York, who have been so sadly affected by the tragedy of September 11th. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

The Donegal Times, The Diamond, Donegal Town, Ireland

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