‘This verdict will tarnish island and damage tourism’, say Irish priest
A 95-year-old Irish priest who has lived most of his life in Mauritius said he fears the murder of Michaela McAreavey will tarnish the holiday island's hospitable reputation.
The concerns of Father Bernard Farrelly appear to be borne out in part by the latest visitor figures on arrivals from Ireland.
But while 22pc fewer Irish are now travelling to the Indian Ocean island in the wake of the crime, overall tourism rates continue to go in the other direction.
For the first time Mauritius is forecast to attract more than one million visitors this year - up 3.1pc on 2011.
Co Cavan native Fr Farrelly, who retired from active ministry only three years ago, insisted the crime does not reflect the true nature of the country and its people.
"It was a terrible tragedy," said the cleric, speaking from his little bungalow beside the white stone Catholic church in Sainte Croix near the capital Port Louis.
"They were young, his wife was a little older than him - she was 27 and he was 26 I think.
"Her father (Mickey Harte) was the trainer of the Tyrone team and he was a public figure and very well known, there was great link between her and her father."
The cleric said locals have prayed for the tragic honeymooner and her widower John since her death at the Legends Hotel.
Mr McAreavey, his father Brendan, sister Claire and brother-in-law Mark Harte stayed at a Catholic religious retreat on the island throughout the course of the trial.
His uncle Dr John McAreavey, the Bishop of Dromore, helped organise the accommodation.
At the private secluded haven they were offered support from clerics and nuns, one of whom was the island's other Irish-born priest, Father Pat Murphy, who prayed with Mr McAreavey.
"Father Murphy said mass for his wife," explained his compatriot Fr Farrelly.
Around 30% of the population of Mauritius count themselves as Christian, the second largest religion behind the 52% Hindu. The remainder are mainly Muslims.
Fr Farrelly first arrived in Mauritius in January 1949 after a six-week boat trip from Ireland.
Apart from a 15-year period teaching and ministering in Nigeria, he has called the island home ever since.
He said he fell in love with the place from the moment he arrived. The climate was one reason, the people another.
"They are very nice, they are very welcoming people," he said.
"Very nice and they are very, very good people."
With that in mind, he said the murder of the Co Tyrone teacher was inexplicable.
"It's not normal, I don't know why it happened at all, it's mysterious," he said.
"It might have an adverse effect on the tourism because Mauritius has a great reputation for hospitality, or it had anyway until that - it may damage its good reputation.
"The people are very friendly, Mauritians are very friendly. That's the reputation they have at the present, that may do a lot of damage to the reputation of the people."
In 2010, the year before Mrs McAreavey's death, a total of 3,460 Irish citizens visited the island.
The following year the number dipped significantly to 2,717.
There was also sizeable fall off in the number of British passport holders arriving on the island last year compared to the previous. In 2010 around 97,500 visited, while only 88,200 went to Mauritius in 2011.
Wider trends must be factored in, particularly the economic downturn, but in a year that saw overall visitor numbers rise, something was certainly putting the Irish and British off.