Last Monday was a bright brittle morning, full of promise, watery winter sunshine and frosty fields. In Ballymcilroy, above Ballygawley in the county of Tír Éoghan a huge crowd was gathering. Further up the road a large sad funeral cortege made its slow heartbroken way towards us. This is Michaela Harte’s homeland. It is where she grew up. Where she went to school. The chapel is where she and John Mc Areavey were married two short weeks ago. Now they were back. For Michaela’s funeral mass.
No words can describe the sadness of it all. Or the quiet grace and dignity with which the Harte and Mc Areavy clanns carried themselves. Michaela’s mother Marian, and her sons, Michaela’s husband John, her father Mickey surrounded by neighbours and friends and John’s family. Together, yet alone, in a human sea – an emotional ocean - of support.
As far as the eye could see crowds stretched on every side. Tír Éoghan’s Gaelic athletes stewarded the crowds and shepherded the visitors. Iconic sporting figures, heroes from the county’s senior football panel, formed a guard of honour.
Senior politicians, church leaders and sports men and women gathered inside the chapel and its precincts. And the local people, breathing love and solidarity and gentle kindly support stood in silence and united in communion with Michaela’s folks.
It had been like this since the sad news of Michaela’s murder during her honeymoon in Mauritius. Errigal Ciaran, the local club was the spine of community support for the family. In a huge spontaneous but well organised act of solidarity they provided parking spaces for visitors, a ferry service of mini buses to and from the wake house, stewards at every road junction, tea and scones and sandwiches for visitors.
The catholic church also played its part. Local priests and Bishop John McAreavey, John’s uncle who married the couple, in particular gave spiritual comfort and thoughtful words of redemption and thanks for Michaela’s life.
A life well lived. A happy, beautiful much loved young gael. A daughter, sister, wife, friend. It will take forever for those closest to Michaela to come to terms with the unfairness of it all. Grief is like that. And sometimes coming to terms with what has happened is impossible. There is a hole in our lives which cannot be filled. It is too big. So we work around it. And try as best we can to keep going.
At the grave A Song For Ireland was sung. Ireland needed Michaela Harte. We need her values. We need her family and John’s family. We need all the young people, her peers, who gathered in fun to enjoy the cráic and joy of her wedding. And we need all that love and commitment and kindness that is part of us all and that was so obvious in TÍr Éoghan and Ballymcilroy this week.
Mickey Harte and his family have made a huge contribution to gaelic games, to Tír Éoghan and to Ireland. So have players like John McAreavey. They are part of, and they have made us, what we are. We are grateful to them. And proud of them.
Go ndeanfaidh Dia trocaire ar anam Michaela. Beannachtai ar John agus a chlann. Agus ar Marian, Mickey, Michael, Matthew agus Mark.