Thursday 23 November 2017

Berkeley tragedy: Lipstick, ribbons and tears for 'wonderful daughter'

The family of Eimear Walsh - parents Jim and Patricia and brother Robert - at her funeral in Foxrock in Dublin. Picture: Colin Keegan
The family of Eimear Walsh - parents Jim and Patricia and brother Robert - at her funeral in Foxrock in Dublin. Picture: Colin Keegan
Eimear Walsh
Ribbons left on a tree at the Our Lady of Perpetual Succour church in Foxrock. Picture: Mark Condren
Parents Jim and Patricia and brother Robert at Eimear Walsh's funeral Mass in Foxrock. Picture: Mark Condren
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

The big things can break your heart, but sometimes it's the little things which pierce your soul.

Just after the funeral mass for 21-year old Eimear Walsh got under way, a quiet ripple of affectionate laughter swelled fleetingly in the church as mementos of the student's short life were carried to the altar. Among her poignant possessions were fake tan, a pair of hair straighteners, a lipstick - objects both beloved of young women, and painfully familiar to anyone who has lived with and cherished a teenage girl.

Family members arrive to the funeral of Eimear Walsh at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
Family members arrive to the funeral of Eimear Walsh at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
Mourners arrive for the funeral mass of Eimear Walsh at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
Mourners arrive for the funeral mass of Eimear Walsh at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
The remains of Eimear Walsh are brought to the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
Minister Heather Humphreys at the funeral mass of Eimear Walsh at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
Mourners arrive for the funeral mass of Eimear Walsh at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren
Mourners arrive for the funeral mass of Eimear Walsh at the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Photo: Mark Condren

Yet these everyday items are also small, significant milestones along the journey of growing up, of spreading impatient wings and flying from the family nest to explore new horizons. But for Eimear and for five other students it was an all-too-brief odyssey to America that led to a 21st birthday party and to a balcony on a balmy night in Berkeley, which ended in shocking tragedy.

The church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock was packed as the chief mourners, Eimear's parents Jim and Patricia and her brother Robert, arrived in a large cortege for her funeral mass celebrated by former parish priest and family friend, Fr Paul Ward.

On the altar, six candles flickered, one for each of the students who died, below which had been placed a framed photo montage of the six young people who perished in Berkeley.

Read more: Soulmate Eoghan has been taken from me, girlfriend tells church

There were other thoughtful touches too from a church and community who had rallied around the Walsh family: small packs of tissues were left on each of the family pews near the front. In the adjoining parish hall, tables groaned under the weight of food prepared by parishioners; mass missals adorned with a single picture of Eimear, a young woman with a sparkling, confident smile, were handed out by volunteers.

Fr Ward welcomed the family and friends and dignitaries - the President and Taoiseach were represented by their aides de camp, Arts Minister Heather Humphreys attended on behalf of the Government, and Stuart Dwyer from the American Embassy represented the US.

The procession of mementos also included a pair of dancing shoes, music to reflect her love of singing, and a text-book that belonged to the third-year UCD medical student.

In his homily, Fr Ward said it was "not surprising" that Eimear had chosen to study medicine, "because she comes from a family who are considerate and caring," he said. "Their home is one of genuine hospitality".

Towards the end of the funeral mass, her father Jim described the horror that had been visited on his family as "very traumatic - Eimear being so far away, and us being so helpless," he added, sorrow etched on every word.

Jim painted a vivid picture of his adored daughter - he spoke of how he had worriedly taken her to her driving-test, as dads do. (She passed).

"Eimear was such a beautiful person, a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind-hearted, generous, fun-loving, independent-minded, very bright, confident but never pretentious. Like any young person she was interested in having a good time, hanging out with friends, just living in the moment."

Read more: US probe confirms balcony timbers 'severely dry rotted'

He explained how he and Patricia thought their daughter might do something theatrical, but when she decided to do medicine, "in very typical fashion she knuckled down, and obtained the grades," he said.

"Now that we've lost Eimear so tragically there's a huge void in our lives. However, knowing Eimear she would want us to be strong for each other, pick ourselves up and keep going."

Eimear's coffin was brought out into the sunshine as Honor Heffernan sang the hymn 'For Good'. About 50 young women stood in a guard of honour, each full of promise and all filled with grief.

As the mourners hugged and talked, a young man was showing off some photos on his phone to an older man. "She's the image of you," observed the second man. "She is," smiled the proud dad.

Behind them, a just-planted red-leafed maple tree waved in the breeze, its branches a butterfly riot of yellow, green and white ribbons upon each of which was inscribed a loving message for Eimear and her friend Olivia Burke whose funeral mass takes place in the same church today. "Friends together in heaven," read one.

Both just 21. Sometimes it's the little things.

Irish Independent

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