Sunday 11 December 2016

Church falls silent to hear poem from the mother left behind

Alan O'Keeffe

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

Tears flowed as brave mother Louise James stood in front of the coffins of her five drowned loved ones, and spoke of both grief and gratitude.

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She recited a poem of eloquent beauty and thanked all those people who helped in the family's time of peril.

The congregation watched in silent admiration as she walked onto the altar of the Church of the Holy Family in Derry to speak her words at the funeral.

Her children Mark (12) and Evan (8), her partner Sean McGrotty (49), her sister Jodie-Lee Tracey (14) and her mother Ruth Daniels (59) all lost their lives when the family car slipped off a pier in Buncrana, Co Donegal, on Sunday.

"A city stunned in silence, hearts broken beyond repair, the tragedy of a family gone, leaving so many in despair," she recited.

"They went to watch the sunset, together on Buncrana pier, unbeknown to them all an angel would be near.

Five portraits of the tragic family adorned the altar at the Holy Family Chapel in Ballymagroarty, Derry, yesterday. Photo: North West Newspix
Five portraits of the tragic family adorned the altar at the Holy Family Chapel in Ballymagroarty, Derry, yesterday. Photo: North West Newspix

"Taken together as a family, joined as one on Heaven's door, a community left in mourning, lives shattered ever more.

"Their faces will forever map the sea, remembered by each and every one, down by the Lake of Shadows, when you look beyond the sun."

The small church was full to capacity as relatives, friends, school pals, clergy, teachers, and community leaders listened in silence to the words of this remarkable woman.

Politicians in the pews included Deputy First Minister McGuinness and SDLP leader Colum Eastwood as well as the party's former leader Martin Durkan.

She thanked the emergency services, the Coastguard, the lifeboat service, ambulance and health service personnel and gardai for their services on the darkest evening of her life. But, in particular, she thanked Davitt Walsh who swam out to the sinking car and rescued her infant daughter Rioghnach-Ann. Sean's dying words to Davitt were "Save the baby."

Clasping the lectern, she said "Finally, we will be eternally grateful to Davitt Walsh and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox. For without fear of his own life and safety, he entered Lough Swilly to save my Rioghnach-Ann. And I will be forever grateful to you. Thank you so so much."

A crescendo of applause echoed to the rafters.

Damien Harkin, a teacher at Saint Joseph's primary school, told the congregation that Mark and Evan were popular and likeable pupils.

"Evan was a beautiful, fun-loving, wee boy," he said.

He said Mark was "a teacher's dream" who was quiet, hard-working, creative, charming and always smiling.

Marie Lyndsey, a teacher at Saint Mary's College, said Jodie-Lee was a beautiful girl who also had inner beauty and "a beautiful heart".

Laugh

The schoolgirl loved Justin Bieber and had a great sense of fun. She would cheer up her schoolpals and "the echo of her famous laugh will ring through the corridors of the school for many years to come," she said.

Sean's elder brother Jim evoked laughter as he told stories of his younger brother growing up at home. Sean loved "craic and divilment" and the friends he had in childhood remained his friends throughout his life. A strong character trait was his resolve always to see whatever he embarked upon to its completion.

Sean first met his partner Louise when he berated her for bringing a bag of chips into the taxi he was driving, said Jim to sounds of laughter.

Ruth's son Joshua spoke movingly of his mother being "a perfect human being" who was loving and kind and made him proud.

Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown paid tribute to school pupils who provided music, hymns and guards of honour. He told them their lives were "precious beyond measure".

The Taoiseach and President were represented by their aide de camps Commandants Kieran Carey and Louise Conlon.

Irish Independent

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