Saturday 26 May 2018

Cavan tragedy: Anguished farewell to family 'loved dearly in life and death'

A bewildered community gathered to say farewell to an ordinary family we could all identify with

Awful day: Alan Hawes' remains are taken into the church for the funeral mass, followed by those of two of his sons Photo: Gerry Mooney
Awful day: Alan Hawes' remains are taken into the church for the funeral mass, followed by those of two of his sons Photo: Gerry Mooney
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

They lived and died together, and yesterday on a grey Cavan day they were buried together.

The Hawe family were buried in a family grave, father Alan (41) and his wife Clodagh (39) on either side with the white caskets of their three sons - Liam (15), Niall (11), Ryan (6) - the smiling boys whose lives ended so tragically in a murder-suicide a week ago, placed between them. In life and now in death, united, despite the terrible circumstances that ended their short lives.

Liam's hearse arrives at the church Photo: Gerry Mooney
Liam's hearse arrives at the church Photo: Gerry Mooney

"Two families united in support and brokenness," said local curate Fr Felim Kelly in an emotional homily at Castlerahan parish church last evening.

In his haunting homily, Fr Kelly, a family friend, recalled the part Clodagh and Alan played in the community, and their "gifted", "unspoiled" and "respectful children".

He paid tribute to "two families united in support and brokenness, sharing the burden, bewildered, pained and yet heroic."

He also asked mourners to "stop and focus on the awfulness of the moment" as family members placed symbols of their lives on their coffins.

Fr Kelly told mourners that he visited the Hawe family one Christmas morning a couple of years ago. He recalled "Clodagh with her scones, red jam and mug of coffee: Liam, Niall and Ryan busily like budding engineers building all kinds of Lego.

"More importantly, they invited the old man and indeed showed him how to go about some intricate structure. Alan standing with his back to the kitchen sink, totally at ease, enjoying the bean an ti and the antics of unspoiled and respectful sons - though it must be said that Ryan, the youngest, had the eyes of a rogue and a beguiling manner. That is my abiding memory of a family at Christmas."

Fr Kelly asked: "How so much goodness could be destroyed? How such happiness could be invaded? How? Why? It is not for us to seek answers or to surmise about behaviour. We all are trying to cope with a tragedy beyond our understanding."

The funeral cortege of five hearses arrived at the old stone church of St Mary's, on an incline on the road, between Oldcastle and Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan, shortly before 5pm. The hearse carrying Clodagh Hawe's body was first to arrive, followed by her three children, with the coffin of her husband Alan bringing up the rear with a red football jersey of the Windgap GAA Club placed on the lid.

During the funeral Mass his brother Philip brought up a gift of a Kilkenny jersey to signify the "noble tradition" of the county in which he was steeped.

Clodagh Hawe's mother, Mary Coll, brought up a basketball to commemorate her grandson Liam; Audrey, Clodagh's cousin, brought up a trophy for Niall, to signify his many talents and serious nature; while Gerry Nolan - known as "Granddad", by Ryan - brought up a gift of a woolly dog with appealing eyes to signify his life.

"As we reflect on the symbols and the awfulness of this moment, the Holy Spirit speaks to us in our anger and bewilderment or despair, even curiosity and possibly emptiness at this time," said Fr Kelly.

For the Communion reflection, Clodagh's sister, Jacqueline, read a poem, The Broken Chain, which began:

"We little knew that day,

God would call your names,

Alan, Clodagh, Liam, Niall and Ryan,

In life we loved you dearly,

In death we do the same."

Last Sunday, Alan Hawe, inexplicably killed his wife and their three children in a murder-suicide - for reasons which have yet to be explained or understood. He was the vice principal of Castlerahan National School, where two of his sons were pupils. Clodagh was a teacher in Oristown School, near Kells, Co. Meath. Their eldest son Liam was a pupil in Virginia.

In a photograph that defined the Hawe family, once the terrible truth of their fate emerged, we see an ordinary, decent family - one we can all identify with.

Yet lurking beneath the surface was some dark secret that surfaced last Sunday night, due to mental problems or some other factor yet to emerge. A suicide note found inside the house may eventually reveal the awful truth of their fate, which remains as inexplicable as it is tragic.

"The family shared the burden, bewilderment and pain," said Fr Kelly. "Mary Coll, Clodagh's mother, Jacqueline her sister - how much more can a family endure - Stephen and Olive Hawe, Alan's parents; Enda and PJ, his brothers; Sarah and Vanessa, his sisters-in-law."

Neighbours and friends lined the short avenue to St Mary's, the square, stone-built church where the funeral took place and the adjoining graveyard, fringed with conifer trees where the family were buried.

Members of Castlerahan GAA Club in white shirts acted as pallbearers for Alan Hawe. Friends of the family carried the other four coffins into the church where 12 priests, including the bishop of Kilmore, Dr Leo O'Reilly, concelebrated the funeral Mass.

Classmates of Liam from Virginia College stood in silence as the cortege entered the church, but children from the adjoining national schools where Niall and Ryan were pupils were advised not to attend the service on the advice of a psychologist.

Silence broken only by birdsong enveloped the grounds of the church as the funeral procession arrived.

The rumble of garda outriders announced the funeral procession at 4:23pm yesterday, with the five black hearses coming into view from the Ballyjamesduff direction.

The first hearse, carrying the body of Clodagh Hawe, made its way up the steep incline to the church door, but as the funeral bell tolled, the second hearse stalled and the coffin carrying the remains of Niall had to be carried up the hill.

Sunday Independent

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