Many thousands of people lined the streets for one of the saddest processions ever to pass through Galway. Many were on their knees, all were silent, and all were praying as the funeral cortege passed of the victims of the airliner, the "Hugo De Groot".
The tragedy, commonly known as the KLM Disaster happened on August 14th, 1958, when the K.L.M. Super Constellation airliner crashed into the Atlantic, about 100 miles off the Conemara Coast. There were 91 passengers on board, of many nationalities and a Dutch crew of 8. They took off at 4.05am from Shannon going to New York. Everyone on board was killed instantly in the crash. The plane had failed to make a routine radio check, and a full-scale alert was declared.
At 3.00pm that afternoon, an RAF search plane sighted some wreckage about 90 miles west of Slyne Head. Immediately, 14 vessels of various nations abandoned their normal duties and headed for the scene of the crash. They were able to recover the remains of 34 of the victims. These were all brought ashore at the docks and taken to the new Regional Hospital in ambulances of the Order of Malta and of the Irish Red Cross, assisted by the Civil Defence.
No other bodies have since been recovered from the ocean. Only 12 of the 34 could be positively identified prior to the funeral, which the coroner, at his inquest, directed be held on August 19th. The remains of eleven of these were flown back to their native countries; the twelfth, a baby girl, was buried in Galway at the request of her family who were present at the ceremony.
There was a funeral service held outside the mortuary of the Regional in which priests representing all the faiths known to have been held by the passengers participated. Then the cortege moved through the city to the cemetery of St.Mary's on the Hill. There were only nine hearses available, so the army provided the additional vehicles required. These were followed by detachments of the Civil Defence, the Knights of Malta, The Red Cross, the Church dignitaries, the K.L.M. guard of Honour, the next of kin, the diplomatic Corps, members of Galway Corporation and the nurses.
Church bells tolled all over the city, and shops and businesses closed. As you can see from our photograph taken at the Browne doorway, Galwegians lined the route in silent prayer. The mass grave is just inside the cemetery gates on the left.
We have an enquiry from Anne Skelton, of Drum East, Rahoon (Tel: 087 2446040). She is trying to trace the burial place of a Tom Molineaux, who was born into slavery in Georgetown, Virginia. He became a famous boxer and travelled to Galway in 1818 as part of a sparring exhibition tour of Ireland. He made friends with two black bandsmen who were members of the 77th East Middlesex Regiment, stationed in Galway. He died in the barracks there on 14/8/1818. Does anyone know where he is buried?
The annual Memorial Mass for Fr. Michael Griffin and the deceased members of Fr. Griffin's Gaelic Football Club will be celebrated in the Club House, South Park on Friday November 25th at 7.30pm. Club Members, friends and relatives of the deceased are invited to attend the mass which will be celebrated by Fr. Des Forde.
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