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Sunday 22 April 2018

Handbag she loved but would not live to see: family's final tribute to tragic Lesley-Ann McCarragher

Family place the bag beside her coffin so her friends could post their selfies and handwritten notes as final farewells to their friend
Family place the bag beside her coffin so her friends could post their selfies and handwritten notes as final farewells to their friend

Angela Rainey

A designer handbag for fashion-loving Lesley-Ann McCarragher is the poignant yet painful reminder of the final earthly gift the "beautiful and bubbly" teen could not wait to receive but would never get to see.

The baby pink Michael Kors tote that Lesley-Ann asked family to bring from New York should have been proudly carried and used to hold the teen's make-up and purse. Instead it sits stuffed with heartfelt tributes from those who knew her.

The 19-year-old was struck in a hit-and-run last week and died in Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, surrounded by her family.

In a final tribute to the former head girl of City of Armagh High School, her family placed the bag beside her coffin so her friends could post their selfies and handwritten notes as final farewells to their friend.

Lesley-Ann, who was studying at Loughry College to become an environmental health inspector, asked her family to bring her the bag back from a trip to New York when they went in July, not knowing it was already hers. Now, the bag sits in the family's Armagh home as a tribute to the teenager's enormous popularity.

Too distraught to speak, her parents James and Elizabeth asked that her uncle Gilbert McCarragher pay tribute on behalf of the whole family.

He recalled his niece as a "beautiful and amazing person" who loved sport and competition and "put her all into everything".

He said she balanced her tomboy side with her love of fashion and glamour while earning some extra money as a part-time domestic worker at St Luke's Hospital in Armagh.

"The horror of this situation is absolutely bottomless," added Mr McCarragher, a freelance photographer.

"We've all cried so much, our hearts have been wrenched from us to the point I almost can't cry anymore. We are all completely devastated at losing such a beautiful person who gave so much. It's a loss to the world.

"She was inquisitive about everything, always wanting to find out things, asking questions, and she loved hearing about different members of the family and how we grew up.

"She was so petite, with the loveliest big brown eyes, always laughing and smiling, always happy. And she was competitive, she loved football and hockey. But she worked hard for everything she had achieved.

"She always said there was no point in doing anything unless she put 100% into it. She wasn't handed everything on a plate and she always gave her all no matter what.

"Lesley-Ann was a very humble person, never blowing her own trumpet or grandstanding. There was no diva in her, like many her age. Though she would have loved knowing there was a police escort at her funeral, like Princess Diana's.

"Her beauty came from the inside-out. She never realised the impact she had on everyone. This innocent and perfect thing, at 19 years old, taken from us.

"It feels unreal in quieter moments to think that she is not here joking and laughing. To not see her putting sugar on her cereal while wearing her big fluffy slippers on her feet is just surreal - it's the little normal things that are now so significant as memories."

Gilbert also recalled how he helped her with an art homework where they turned a can of baked beans into a surrealist piece about the goose that laid the golden eggs, gaining Lesley-Ann a grade A, which delighted her.

He added that more than 1,500 people came to pay their respects at her funeral on Wednesday. Cars, buses and passers-by all stood still in respect for the cortege.

"To see how many people held her in high regard has blown us away," Mr McCarragher added.

"There's been such solidarity from both sides of the community here, which has really helped to get through, helped us to stay strong, to see that respect and feel that support,

"Lesley-Ann led a short but amazing life. There was so much more for this beautiful young woman as she stood on the cusp of adulthood. To think that she will remain a teenager forever more (but was) once on the transition of blossoming into a beautiful, young and successful woman.

"To think she will never get to experience all the things the future held for her, like romantic love, a career, and even all the hard aspects of life that teach us to grow and mature.

"The pain is very raw. It will not go. Even on the sunniest days as the family pass where she was killed, it will always be a reminder of our loss.

"There are no right words to say, because such circumstances should never exist for people. It should never have happened.

"But we'll try to work through this as a family, knowing that she will never be forgotten, her memory kept alive by talking about her every day."

Despite their grief, both of Lesley-Ann's parents have been to pay their respects to the family of John Irwin, a pupil at Lesley-Ann's school who died suddenly on Monday.

"We understand the terrible pain the Irwin family are feeling at this awful time and we extend our condolences and support to them," Mr McCarragher added.

The family have also released new photos of Lesley-Ann in happier times as a reminder to the world of "having known her 19 years and forever cherishing their princess".

They have also set up a fundraising page to raise money for the Air Ambulance as a thank-you for medics' efforts at the scene, and at the request of Mrs McCarragher to help others needing emergency assistance.

Belfast Telegraph

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