A MUCH-loved local priest and a bus driver both died in a freak accident this afternoon in a popular harbour town in Cork.
Fr Con Cronin was killed instantly after being struck by an out-of-control bus which veered across Strand Road in the heart of Monkstown village shortly before 2pm.
The bus driver is believed to have suffered a medical episode, possibly a heart attack as he drove through the small town.
He was named locally as Mark Wills from Carraigdene, Ballincollig and formerly of Passage West.
A postmortem examination which will take place in Cork University Hospital tomorrow is expected to determine his cause of death.
Both men were pronounced dead at the scene near Monkstown Pier and across the road from the two popular side by side pubs, the Bosun Bar and Restaurant and the Ensign.
A teenage girl who was walking with her dad had a close brush with death or serious injury. As the bus headed towards them the quick thinking dad managed to push her out of the path of the vehicle, saving her life.
The schoolgirl suffered bruises and was traumatised but was treated by paramedics at the scene before being to take by ambulance to Cork University as a precautionary measure.
POPULAR WITH WALKERS
The horrific accident happened in the very heart of Monkstown, a renowned yachting and boating centre which is also very popular with walkers.
Usually the area is busy with walkers who enjoy the 10k walk from Passage West to Raffeen but the area was relatively quiet at the time of the accident.
According to locals the 216 single deck bus which operates between Monkstown and CUH veered suddenly across the road and struck up to six cars parked near the slipway on the sea wall side, also hitting the wall.
Fr Con was crossing the road and was struck by the bus and is understood to have died instantly.
Fortunately there were no passengers on the bus. A second bus arrived in the village shortly after the accident and the driver unloaded his passengers before rushing to try and help his colleague.
Fr Con who was in his late 60’s was the Curate in Harbour Parish which covers Passage West, Monkstown and Ringaskiddy.
His cheerful disposition and honest talking made him hugely popular with parishioners who showed their appreciation before Covid struck when he lost his wallet while on holidays and they made a collection to compensate him for his loss. He immediately donated the money to charity.
Just two years ago, he celebrated 40 years in his priestly ministry.
Over the course of his career, he served in Ireland, England, Scotland and Nigeria.
A Kiltegan Father, he spent the bulk of his ministry on mission work in Africa returning to take up a position in the harbour parishes about 9 years ago where he has ministered since 2012.
A native of Kealkil near Bantry in West Cork, he made headlines last year when he said, during an RTE documentary The Confessors, that aired last October that he was afraid to wear his clerical collar while off duty and out in public for fear of being attacked.
Fr Con said clerics were now cautious of drawing attention from people who wanted to target them because of the Church’s association
with various scandals and controversies.
He said he had no difficulty wearing clerical garb or being recognised in his own parish, but was wary if out in the wider public.
He also became a social media celebrity when in May 2019, he performed the Floss dance in his church at a First Holy Communion Mass much to the delight of both the children and parents.
He said the kids had taught him the dance and he performed it in “a moment of madness”.
‘UTTER SHOCK AND SADNESS’
In a statement the Bishop of Cork and Ross Bishop Fintan Gavin said “We have learned with utter shock and sadness of the untimely death of Fr Con Cronin, curate in the Harbour Parishes of Passage West and Monkstown, who died as a result of an accident.
“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go to Fr Con’s family, his wide circle of friends, parishioners and his fellow priests in the St. Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan, as well as the priests of the Diocese of Cork and Ross.
“This tragic accident also leaves another family mourning the loss of a loved one and I extend my prayerful support to his family also.
“I pray for healing and peace for all who were injured and those who witnessed the accident. I wish to acknowledge the professionalism and kindness of the emergency services who attended the accident scene.
“Fr. Con has served in the Harbour Parishes since 2012 establishing a warm rapport both pastorally and personally with all to whom he ministered and all who had contact with him.
“He will be remembered fondly for his unique sense of humour and his openness to all people.
“He died on the day when the Gospel reminds us what happened the day Jesus asked Peter to step out of the boat and come to him across the water.
Jesus called out to him, saying, ‘Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.’
“Fr. Con who was ordained in 1979 courageously ministered in Africa with the Kiltegan Fathers for 25 years before returning to Ireland in 2004 where after promoting the missionary work of the church he settled into parish life in his native Co Cork.
“His love for his native place and its people — the Borlin Valley in Bantry Parish — has never wavered.
“All who know Fr. Con are grateful for having known him and our diocese is blessed that he ministered among us”.
Today Bus Éireann extended the deepest sympathies of the entire company to the family and friends of the two people who died in the serious collision.
They said one of them, the driver who was in his 50’s was “a long-standing and greatly valued employee based at the Capwell Depot”.
Stephen Kent, CEO of the company said: “This is a very tragic event. This is a terrible and sad day for everyone at Bus Éireann, and we are all heavy-hearted.
“Our thoughts are with the families and communities affected by this loss. We would like sincerely to thank the emergency services for all their work and assistance today and our own employees who responded at the scene.”
“Bus Éireann is putting in place support measures for employees impacted.
“The collision occurred in Monkstown at approximately 1.40pm on Cork city service 216 from Monkstown to Cork University Hospital.
“The vehicle was a single deck city bus, registered in 2016.
“Gardai have confirmed to Bus Éireann there were no other injuries.
“Safety has always been Bus Éireann’s priority and the company is also investigating the accident, and cooperating fully with the relevant authorities”.
Passage West GAA club cancelled all activities as a mark of respect for the tragic accident that happened in Monkstown this evening.
In a Facebook post the club stated “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who have tragically lost their lives as well as all in the local community”.
Rosary was recited tonight in St Mary’s Church Passage West, followed by a candlelight vigil at 9 p.m. in Fr O’Flynn Park, Passage West where prayers were said for all those involved in and affected by the tragic accident.
Gardai and paramedics raced to the scene but were unable to save either man. Fire service units from Anglesea Street and Cork County Fire Service from Carrigaline attended at the scene and made it safe before Garda investigations commenced.
Major traffic diversions were put in place with all traffic stopped from going through the picturesque village.
Gardaí in Togher are appealing for any witnesses to this collision to come forward. Any road users who were travelling on the Strand Road between 1.15pm and 1.45pm this afternoon, and who may have camera footage (including dash cam), are asked to make this footage available to investigating Gardaí.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact Togher Garda Station on 021 494 7120, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111, or any Garda station.