The Funeral Liturgy was held today for the five people who lost their lives in the Buncrana pier tragedy last Sunday. Hundreds of mourners gathered inside and outside the Holy Family Church, Derry to pay their respects to Ruth Daniels RIP, Jodie Lee Daniels RIP, Sean McGrotty RIP, Mark McGrotty RIP and Evan McGrotty RIP and to offer condolences to their bereaved families.
In his words of welcome to the congregation Father Patrick O’Kane, Parish Priest of Ballymagroarty said, “We are plunged in grief. Even the heavens are crying. Five beautiful people have been taken tragically from our midst. Five people whom we loved. Not just this family, this community, this country, but also people from all over the world are united with us in grief.”
In his homily Father O’Kane said, “When the news broke on Sunday evening that a terrible accident had happened on Buncrana pier my prayers for the dead and bereaved included a prayer for the priest who would have to face the family and at the funeral try to make sense of this tragedy. Little did I think I was praying for myself. Then at seven o’ clock on Monday morning I got a call ‘It’s Louise James here, Fr Paddy’ she said ‘that was my husband, my children, my mother, my sister that died yesterday evening.’ Stunned, I later made my way to her home where the grief was palpable. Grown men stood, red eyed, in silence. Words could not come to my lips to put any shape on what I felt inside. A reverend silence felt more appropriate as I gripped her hand. As I kissed her cheek, I tasted the salt of her tears. ‘I am so, so sorry’ was all I could muster, and I hoped it was enough. There comes a time when you struggle with doubt and darkness, when you stand on the brink of emptiness and despair, of anguish, fear and loneliness, that you are tempted to ask ‘Is there a God? And if there is, where is He now? If you are a God of kindness and compassion, come out of your hiding place and show yourself! Tomorrow, Good Friday, we will hear Christ on the Cross scream out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ We can make our own that lonely, painful prayer of desolation today.
“We struggle today to find words to speak the unspeakable. We are bewildered by the intensity of this grief for I know Louise that – as I have already said- there is nothing I can say today to alleviate your pain and sense of loss. This is a desert experience, barren of any comfort, as we search for an oasis of hope in this bleak landscape and as we struggle to find there any refreshing words of life and healing. When I visited the funeral home on Tuesday morning and saw the five coffins, their occupants so peaceful in that sleep we call death, I broke down in tears. I was bereft and deep sighs came from my heart. When finally prompted to pray by the undertaker, the words seemed to echo, so empty and hollow.”
Offering words of hope to the family and the congregation, Father O’Kane continued, “And yet there is one little sliver of light, one ray of hope bravely breaking through the dark clouds and it is this-little Rioghnach Ann has been saved. As Louise says to me again and again ‘She is my only reason to go on living’. I baptised her at this font on 23 January in the company of her parents Louise and Sean, her godparents Joshua and Gemma and her extended family. The day before I paid them a visit at St. Eithne’s Park where they made me welcome and asked me to bless their beautiful little family home. While I was there I was told that little Evan had muscular dystrophy and how Louise has so far raised £16,000 for that charity including a tandem parachute jump from 14,000 feet. Two weeks ago we were gathered as a family again when he made his First Confession – that same little Evan who, when his mother phoned him at five to seven on Sunday evening as they sat on the Pier to watch the sunset, said ‘Mammy I miss you so much. I am going to give you the biggest, tightest hug you ever got, when I see you again’. We were also here last May when Mark received the Sacrament of Confirmation and last July when Ann, Sean’s younger sister died from cancer. I also knew the Daniels family from the time I was a young priest in the Bogside during the 1970s. Later I will invite the principals of their schools, Damien Harkin and Marie Lyndsey, to say a few words about the children, together with comments from Jim about his brother Sean and Joshua about his mother Ruth.”
“On this Holy Thursday in the liturgy of the Church we find Jesus washing the dusty feet of his friends. If our faith remains only as words it is empty. Today Jesus tells us not to be self-centred, but self-giving, not to be hard hearted but life giving for actions speak louder than words. It is not about ‘what’s in it for me or us?’ but about ‘what’s in it for others?’ We are called to reach out in service to those around us so that the Kingdom of God may come among us and perhaps, just perhaps, because of us, as the first reading you heard challenged us, the blind can see a bit more clearly, the lame man can walk with only one crutch, the deaf hear the song of their own hearts, the mute speak a few mumbled words and the poor feel a little more enriched. We saw it in the self-sacrifice of Sean on Sunday evening as he desperately tried to save his family. We saw that altruism again in the bravery of Davitt Walsh who saved the life of Rioghnach Ann by swimming out to rescue her. Davitt, today we salute you as our hero. We had a meeting in our Parochial house on Tuesday when Louise and her family met you to thank you for all you did and also your girlfriend Stephanie Knox for her quick thinking as she warmed the baby’s little blue body back to life. Louise thanked you both sincerely from the bottom of her heart and for trying to save the lives of her sons. “Don’t blame yourself that you did not do more – we are so grateful for what you did” she says. Davitt once played senior football and he looks a fit man, all of which stood to him in his ordeal. “It could easily have been seven deaths, not five “ Louise added, before passing the baby to Davitt to hold. She opened her beautiful blue eyes, smiled up at him and had a big yawn.”
Father O’Kane went on to thank the members of the public who had helped out and he praised the work of the emergency services’ “We saw that generosity of spirit in Frances Crawford and others who raised the alarm, in the emergency services who responded to the call for help – for they did all that was humanly possible to resuscitate the bodies which thankfully were recovered immediately. We saw it in the way this community has rallied around Louise and all those who grieve here today. The kindness of strangers is another ray of light to lift us from our darkness.”
The final words of Father O’Kane’s homily were reserved for Louise, to whom he said, “Your faith is strong as I hear you say how your sons Mark and Evan, partner Sean, mother Ruth and Jody-Lee your only sister, are now reunited in heaven with your little baby Joshua who lived for only seventeen hours. You are just going to have to wait a little longer ‘until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan.
“When our backs are against the wall and we have nowhere else to turn sometimes all we can do is cry out with Christ’s disciples. Lord, to whom else can we go for you alone possess the words of eternal life.”
Friends, family members, and the local schools were all involved in the Funeral Liturgy. Father O’Kane offered some words of reflection too using the poem The Musician by Anglian priest-poet RS Thomas. Father O’Kane also shared A Prayer in Difficult Times adapted from a piece by Joyce Rupp.
In his closing prayer, Father O’Kane entrusted Ruth, Jodie Lee, Sean, Mark and Evan into the Lord’s care, asking that they be taken into His loving arms and welcomed into Paradise.
Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry offered some words of comfort and thanks at the end of the Mass saying:
“These have been sombre days, not only in this city but right across this island. The banks of daffodils seemed to wave naively in the face of the horror that happened in a few minutes on an apparently harmless pier at Buncrana. And the news of the awful events in Brussels underlined just how fragile life can be.
“The wider community here has responded magnificently to the unspeakable tragedy that has afflicted Louise and the wider family circle. For this bereavement has affected many members of the extended family who have also lost close relations and friends in Sean, Ruth, Jodie-Lee, Mark and Evan. The community has tapped into a great wellspring of goodness that has helped to counteract the awful toxin of sudden death. We heard heartrending stories of courage on Sunday evening and we have listened to beautiful words from those most sorely afflicted by the awful loss. The schools attended by Jodie-Lee, Mark and Evan – St Mary’s, St Joseph’s and St Eithne’s – have drawn on their deep resources of compassion and faith in order to help the pupils articulate their loss and their incomprehension. Their musical and other contributions reflect their generosity and sense of identity and help all of us to see glimmers of hope in the lives that the young people still have to live. For, as at the foot of the Cross, we all stand speechless at what we have seen and heard. Young people, believe in the beauty of life at all stages and in all circumstances. It is precious beyond measure. Never put it at risk even when you face what you think are insurmountable problems.
“For many others in our community, these tragic days will bring back memories of personal loss and tragedy, awakening trauma that they experienced over the years. The scars of personal tragedies lurk in the hearts of so many people. But on days like this the language of faith is still very close to the surface. That is why this is such a compassionate and resourceful city.
“I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those in wider civic society who have so much to make these terrible events flow as smoothly as possible. Derry City and Strabane Council – under the direction of John Kelpie – has put many resources at our disposal to ensure that things run smoothly. And the PSNI are playing an important role in managing traffic.
“The Cross that we celebrate on Good Friday is not an escape from reality. It invites us to face painful reality with trust that love is stronger than hate, life stronger than death, hope more powerful than despair. This will be a very long Holy Week for Louise and other members of the family. But together and with God’s grace we can face it. Calvary looms over us – but, for people of faith, the hope of Easter still lurks around the corner. For love and life are stronger than death and the bitterest tragedy.”
A private burial took place after the Mass in Derry City.