Lise Hand: Darkness of sorrow casts a long shadow for grieving friends and family
There was no ceremony, no protocol. President Higgins and Sabina simply enfolded the grieving relatives in compassionate hugs, just as so many Irish citizens have wished to do since the tragedy in Berkeley.
The memorial service in UCD was the first of what will surely be a sorrowful procession of heart-breaking gatherings when the remains of five of the six students will return to Dublin next week.
However, the service on the campus of the university where third year medical students Lorcán Miller and Eimear Walsh studied and Niccolai Schuster was a popular second-year history and politics student was imbued with the sadness of a funeral.
Ashley Donohue, Olivia Burke and Eoghan Culligan were also remembered.
The octagonal church was filled to capacity with hundreds of staff, students, friends and family - including the father and brother of Niccolai and the grandparents and uncle of Lorcán - with a large crowd gathered outside.
It was a dignified and informal remembrance; made all the more poignant by the beautiful music provided by cellist Eithne Nic an Roigh, a friend of two of the students who died, pianist Killian Grumley-Traynor and soprano Emily Doyle.
There were speeches from members of the extended college family; President of the Students Union Marcus O'Halloran told the congregation, "The hearts of the entire student body truly go out to everyone affected by the tragedy," and quoted a proverb: "Say not in grief 'he is no more', but live in thankfulness that he was".
In his homily, college chaplain Fr Leon Ó'Giolláin paid tribute to the support which flowed in from the Irish communities at home and abroad.
"Our common humanity burst forth like a spring in a desert place," he said, "the sense of community, of communion, has been profound."
He spoke movingly of how the Irish banded together to help those afflicted. "All this tells us is that it really is love that makes the world go around. Love conquers all."
Time and again, the word "community" was invoked - it was fitting, given that the memorial service was being streamed online, allowing the wider Irish family scattered across the continents to take part.
It was a reminder that the Irish community extends far, far beyond the borders of our small country - a huge network of support and kindness and generosity.
Barbara Redmond, Dean of Undergraduate Studies, told the congregation: "For our students here today, and for those following us online in Ireland and abroad, please be aware of how much you are in our thoughts".
The final speech was given by UCD President Andrew Deeks who recalled how the news had broken on the campus on Bloomsday while a conferral ceremony was under way.
"Our routine was shattered by the news of the terrible tragedy. We've lost six wonderful young people and the lives of a generation of students were completely changed," he said.
"Those of us who have dedicated our lives to the education of the next generation expect to nurture them, to watch them as they grow into global citizens."
He concluded by quoting from Joyce's 'Finnegans Wake'. "They lived and laughed and loved and left," he said. "We will not forget them."
The silence as the service drew to this poignant close was broken by the sound of quiet sobbing and by the beautiful voice of Emily Doyle singing Fauré's lament, 'Pie Jesu'.
It may have been the eve of the longest day, but the darkness of sorrow casts a long shadow.