Heartbroken dad says goodbye as blaze victim Mari (5) is laid to rest
THE pink balloons, pink armbands and the little white coffin decorated with 'Dora the Explorer' stickers momentarily brought a little colour into a dark, dark day.
The funeral cortege of Mari Keane Connolly stopped for a few minutes outside the local playground, just a stone's throw from the five-year-old's home.
The young men in dark suits -- all wearing pink roses in their lapels in another nod to her favourite colour -- held the coffin silently, as the town of Boyle, Co Roscommon, struggled to make sense of the young girl's death yesterday.
Just over a week ago, the town learnt that Mari had died in a house fire, with gardai attributing the blaze to a probable arson attack.
Yesterday, Mari was carried through Boyle for the final time, receiving a guard of honour from her former classmates in the infants class of the local national school.
As the funeral party walked down the Crescent, with the blackened shell of her home in the background, a wheelchair-accesssible van followed, carrying her father Richard Connolly.
At St Joseph's Church people cried as the wheelchair was unfolded from the van and Mr Connolly, a hospital blanket thrown over his knees, was wheeled alongside the small coffin carrying his little daughter.
He is still a patient at the Mater Hospital after sustaining horrific back injuries when he fell off a roof while trying to shepherd Marie and her two older sisters to safety as fire ripped through the home.
Despite his injuries, Mr Connolly was determined to be present at this heart-breaking occasion.
Local priest Father Alan Conway said Mari's parents Teresa and Richard, her grandparents, and the rest of her extended family had the support of the community.
A choir from her school, Scoil na nAingeal Naofa -- all of them wearing pink velvet hair bands -- sang 'Be Not Afraid' at the start of the Mass.
Fr Conway told Mari's parents they were enduring probably the greatest cross life can throw up, the loss of a beloved child.
"Many of us cannot even imagine what you are going through," he said.
When the awful news had spread throughout the community a week earlier "we, like you, could not believe that little Mari had died", said the priest.
He drew smiles from the congregation as he recalled the life of a little girl who was obsessed with the cartoon character 'Dora the Explorer', who had a word for everyone and was described elsewhere as "a ball of mischief".
One time, when she painted her mother's toenails, it took Teresa 24 hours to get her socks off, the priest said to laughter.
Fr Conway said Mari's teachers remembered her as bubbly and outgoing and a caring child who looked out for others.
"She was an absolute pleasure and will be sadly missed," he added.
At the end of the Mass, Fr Conway asked people not to sympathise with the family as Mr Connolly was in obvious discomfort and would return immediately to hospital after saying goodbye to his daughter.
As the family stood outside the church Teresa Keane used a scrunched-up tissue to rub the raindrops off her child's coffin.
Mr Connolly had his head in his hands.
The teachers at Mari's school, all of them wearing pink scarves, were red-eyed as they made up a guard of honour while the coffin was taken from the church to Assylinn Cemetery.
Later, in the cemetery, brightly coloured helium balloons were released in memory of the little girl.
Meanwhile, a man suspected of being involved in the arson attack which killed Mari was rearrested for questioning by gardai yesterday morning.
The 33-year-old man was detained by officers in Co Sligo and taken to Boyle garda station, where he was still being held last night.
The suspect was initially arrested last week after a series of garda searches in Co Sligo and held overnight before being released without charge.
He was detained again yesterday under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act and can be held without charge for up to 24 hours.