A dad's tribute as Olivia's journey comes full circle
For the second day in a row, young men and women rose yesterday morning and dressed with care - the troops of lads in formal suits and narrow black ties, the groups of girls in head-to-toe black, with perfect make-up and poker-straight hair.
For the second day in a row, they made a sorrowful pilgrimage to the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock for the funeral of another friend, Olivia Burke. The 21-year old IADT student had gone to Loreto Foxrock with Eimear Walsh who was buried the previous day. She was a cousin and "soulmate" of Ashley Donohoe, who was laid to rest in her home near San Francisco last weekend.
And once again the extraordinary bonds forged in the furnace of intense grief were starkly in evidence; the chief mourners, Olivia's parents Paul and Paula and her brother Gavin, were joined by Eimear's family, Jim, Patricia and Robert Walsh, and also by Ashley's mum and dad, Jackie and George and her sister Amanda. Outside the church, the Tricolour and the Stars and Stripes flew side-by-side at half-mast.
Again, the church was packed, and the quiet chit-chat among friends and neighbours stilled to deep silence as the procession slowly made its way towards the altar.
The kind parish priest, Fr Frank Herron, welcomed the families and the dignitaries; Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan, US ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley and the Taoiseach's and the President's aides de camp.
And he welcomed all the young people crammed into pews and lining the walls - some pale-faced with grief, others bearing a faint glow of Californian sunshine acquired at what should have been the start of a long, hot, sparkling, fun-filled summer. "You had to face this yesterday, and you're back again today," he said, adding that Olivia had been baptised in the church on December 5, 1993.
"Olivia's first visit to the church was when you carried her into the church, surrounded by family and friends. Today that journey of faith has come full circle as once again she's carried into the church surrounded by her family and friends. It's a very hard blow that you should be here to witness this," he told her parents.
In his homily, Fr Herron spoke of how the community had come together to grieve and to support the stricken Walsh and Burke families and how the tragedy "galvanised us in a way we would never have believed possible even a week before".
Heartbreaking mementoes of a cruelly foreshortened life were carried to the altar; a photo of Olivia and her beloved King Charles spaniel Skipper, a school journal, a Ted Baker handbag, and most poignantly, a throw which was presented to Olivia on her 21st birthday, onto which had been scanned a kaleidoscope of happy pictures from her life - no doubt anticipating that many more snapshots would join the joyous montage as the years unfolded.
And somehow, another parent, hollowed out with loss, found the strength to tell the story of their child's life. At the end of the funeral Mass, Paul Burke told the congregation that he had delivered eulogies at his father's funeral Mass in 2011, and at his mother's on Christmas Eve 2013, and had found the ordeal to be "quite manageable - these were two good people who had experienced a full life, 80 and 85 years," he said. "This time around it is a challenge to stand here. No parent wishes to see their child part this life at such a tender age. Not being able to see where Olivia's potential journey would have taken her will certainly cause heartache for some time to come."
He spoke eloquently about her work ethic, which he admired, her love of a chat and a "boogie on the dance-floor". He said that the family had listened to the tributes paid to Olivia, and "it pleased us that they suggest she genuinely was a nice person, caring, considerate". He finished with some last, loving words. "Olivia Burke, my darling, may you rest in peace," he said softly, as his courage was applauded.
But there was one final graceful tribute. As Olivia's coffin was taken from the church, Wicklow-born singer-songwriter Hozier sang 'Work Song'. She had been a huge fan, and the powerful melancholy of the voice which has made him an international star caused broken hearts to break just a little more.
Outside, Olivia's friends stood in a semi-circle for one last time, and hugged and wept. Summer was never supposed to end like this.