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Family bid sad farewell to 'knight in shining armour'

It was not the homecoming they had yearned for. As the Bolton family gathered in their parish church yesterday afternoon, surrounded by hundreds of mourners, the shock of losing their beloved son just 12 days ago was etched in their faces.

Donal, aged just 23, was back in the bosom of his family, but none could ever have imagined how painful this homecoming would be.

Donal was killed in a tragic accident in Australia on January 5, when a car ploughed into him as he sat chatting and waiting for a bus with his girlfriend, Justine Walsh, 22, on a park bench in a pedestrian square in the city of Cairns.

They had been in Australia for almost a year and were expected to return home at the end of this month to celebrate his 24th birthday.

Instead, Justine sat yesterday alongside Donal's parents, Eugene and Margaret, his brother Eoghan and sister Elaine, all of them heartbroken at their loss.

The picturesque church in the quaint village of Ballinagar, Co Offaly, was overflowing as hundreds of family members, friends and loved ones gathered in what was described as "a union of human solidarity".

A procession of symbols to represent the life of this ordinary and fun-loving young man gave a touching insight into Donal's short life. A hurley from his home team in Raheen, a book to represent his great love of Irish history, an Australian rules football showing how much he was enjoying his travels, a pair of working boots symbolising his trade as a welder and fabricator and, finally, and most poignantly, an Irish flag borne by a grief-stricken Justine, which the couple had carried with them throughout their travels in Australia over the past year.

In the course of the Mass, prayers for strength and comfort for Donal's loved ones were said and they, in turn, offered a prayer for the driver of the car involved in the horrific accident, that he may have the strength to carry the burden of that terrible day.

In a heart-rending eulogy at the end of the Mass, Donal's uncle, Joe Bolton, described the young man as "a dedicated son, a caring brother and a loving boyfriend".

He reflected on how he had watched the young and carefree "Jack the lad" grow into a responsible "Donal the man" when he met and fell in love with Justine. Joe, through his tears, recalled how Donal had a passionate love of sport, and particularly hurling with his Raheen teammates, as well as all things Manchester United.

Despite his obvious heartache, Joe brought tearful smiles to many faces as he recounted Donal's school days, with tales of how he tried to dodge school and how he bore his punishment with a cheeky grin. But he also recalled how Donal had scooped a top award at Tullamore College in 2003 for his academic achievement in history.

Struggling to hold back his tears, Joe brought his touching recollections to a close by reiterating the words spoken by Justine at a memorial service last week at the spot where Donal had died: "You are the love of my life, my knight in shining armour, I love you babes."

Sunday Independent