Carrickmines tragedy: Grief overtakes disbelief at the sight of five coffins
Priest tells mourners: 'Love is our mission, no matter how long or short our journey'
Published 21/10/2015 | 02:30
The progress of the five coffins down the main aisle took some time. Amid helpless grief, hands reached out almost blindly to bestow one last tender touch on those who had been loved so well.
Softly, one by one, the hands fell in a gentle rain of blessing on the two white coffins in particular.
Smart little Jodie (9), who always walked so proudly, and tiny Kelsey (4), who was only coming into her own.
Their beautiful young mother, Tara Gilbert (27), who was pregnant with her third child, with her "vibrant soul and electric personality".
Their father, Willy Lynch (25), who "never stopped talking" and who loved nature and life itself.
An entire young family wiped out, their lively, loving chatter silenced forever.
Their uncle, Jimmy Lynch (39) - with the heart of gold, who loved to fix things and was a huge fan of Elvis.
And - almost incredibly - a funeral for five more family members yet to come.
Victims Thomas and Sylvia Connors and their children, Christopher, Jim, and baby Mary, whose family funeral Mass will take place tomorrow, had not been forgotten and were very much present in spirit amid the prayers and thoughts of mourners at this first requiem Mass.
The grief in the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Bray, Co Wicklow, was almost unbearable as the depth and breadth of this great loss finally began to sink in.
It was also a grief that knew no borders, as both Traveller and settled communities came together to seek and offer comfort.
What 'differences' there may be were swept aside amid the fundamental commonality of love and loss.
Silence fell on the main street as the procession of five hearses, followed by 10 Limousines carrying family members, drove slowly by en route to the church in a stark, black swathe of heartbreak.
But it was just the tip of the iceberg of how many lives have been touched by the horrific blaze in Carrickmines, with even Pope Francis feeling compelled to send a personal message of consolation to the grieving families and friends.
The church - spacious though it was, with side aisles and a large choir gallery - was filled to capacity with mourners.
The Little Flower Hall in the grounds took some of the overflow, but still hundreds stood out on the streets and at the back of the church.
Distinguished guests - such as the aide-de-camp to the President, Col Michael Kiernan and aide-de-camp to the Taoiseach, Comdt David Foley and Tánaiste Joan Burton - filed respectfully into their seats alongside everyone else.
Two fluffy pink halos had been placed on the altar for the two little girls, while photographs from a carefree time included a recent family portrait taken on Kelsey's fourth birthday.
There was also a pink and white wreath of flowers in the shape of an angel.
The chief celebrant was Fr Derek Farrell, parish priest at the Parish of the Travelling People.
There were nine other concelebrants, including Bishop Eamonn Walsh, auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, representing Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, and the parish priest, Mgr Enda Lloyd.
Amongst the congregation were many children of all ages, whose murmur provided a comforting reassurance to those adults whose tears fell silently down their cheeks.
There was also comfort to be found in song, as Sarah Lynch, niece to Jimmy and Willy, left her seat in the front row to sing a haunting rendition of 'Amazing Grace', the voices of the congregation accompanying her for the chorus.
Fr Farrell said three families - Lynch, Gilbert and Connors - the entire Traveller community and Ireland as a nation had "suffered a loss which is beyond words".
"There are no words… No words to take away the pain. No words to restore what has been lost," he said.
Fr Farrell spoke of the great love Tara and Willy had for one another and for their children, saying: "Love is our mission on our journey through this world, no matter how long or short that journey may be.
"And even Tara and Willy's unborn child fulfilled that mission, in the love with which they and the family awaited their child," said Fr Farrell.
Prayers and touching poems were read by family members for their lost loved ones that spoke of romance, friendship and devastating heartbreak.
Stuart Gilbert, Tara's cousin, spoke in tribute to her "goodness and love", recalling how she had "gone through a lot of stages in her life and a lot of hairstyles".
He recalled enjoying "literally every moment" with Tara and her family.
"Although they were only with us for a short time, they left an impression most wouldn't leave in a hundred years," he said.
"Jodie was smart, willing and determined. She never missed a day at school, stopping by our house every morning for a hello.
"She walked with confidence and never dropped her chin.
"Kelsey was coming into her own, beginning to find her stride and form her own character, helped along by all those close to her."
In a voice breaking with emotion, John Lynch - who lost his two brothers, Willy and Jimmy and sister Sylvia, along with five nieces and nephews in the blaze - bravely rose and in a message to friends and relations said: "Thank you all from my heart."
Then came the final wrenching goodbye as helpless sobbing filled the air.
On the bridge, 25 teachers from Jodie's school, St Peters NS, each held a cream rose as they stood in a solemn guard of honour as a loving young family was taken on its final journey.