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Wednesday 13 December 2017

From a young age, she touched everyone's life

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

IMAGES of a pretty six-year-old Michaela Harte still hang inside her old classroom in St Malachy's.

Yesterday, her smiling face peered from a trophy cabinet where the school keeps its awards.

Her old school teachers are so proud of Michaela that they keep her pictures on the wall.

Photographs of her dad Mickey and brothers carrying silverware into the school are on show in the hallway.

A dozen children coloured and wrote in workbooks, innocently oblivious to how much this tragedy has affected a home across Co Tyrone's busy A5.

Mickey Harte's family live just a few hundred metres from the school that he himself attended.

This is GAA country, where everybody knows the Hartes.

Mickey has brought home three All-Ireland wins in six years for Tyrone. His only daughter was always by his side. She was one of the few people who was allowed into the dressing room when he talked to the players.

Michaela was a role model for children in Ballygawley -- and beyond.

She proudly wore her Pioneer pin when she took to the stage for the Rose of Tralee contest in 2004 to represent Ulster.

Her friends say she didn't drink but she always let her hair down.

Yesterday, teachers at Michaela's old school talked about how she "touched everybody" in her short life. They recalled how Michaela had returned to St Malachy's to do her teacher-training practice. She never lost touch with the community.

As they browsed through old photographs, the school teachers picked out one of Michaela dressed up as an Egyptian queen. She had got into the role to explain the "wonders of Egypt" to her young pupils.

"It's unthinkable what has happened, it is just hard to put it into words. It feels surreal," said St Malachy's principal Jim McAlinden.

"A couple of weeks ago, Michaela and John were so happy at their wedding. Everybody who attended remarked on how fantastically happy they both were, they were so in love and had everything to look forward to."

Across the A5, there was a steady flow of visitors calling to the Harte house situated on a hill on the Glencull Road.

Nightmare

Mickey Harte sat broken-hearted next to his two sons, Michael and Matthew, as he faced his "worst nightmare".

Down GAA greats Maurice Hayes and Sean O'Neill, and Tyrone all-star Stephen O'Neill were among those who called to the family home.

Darkness had fallen on the winding road to Mickey Harte's home club Errigal Ciaran by 5pm yesterday.

The pitch was deserted and the gates of the grounds were locked.

In the house next to St Malachy's church, where Michaela and John were married less than a fortnight ago, the blinds are drawn. Michaela's uncle and extended family are trying to make sense of what has happened.

There are no words to comfort them.

Irish Independent

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