Sunday 18 February 2018

In her final act of forgiveness, brave Christine brings survivors to church

Christine Buckley's remains are carried from church
Christine Buckley's remains are carried from church
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

AMID the wide circle of those who benefited from Christine Buckley's immeasurable love were abuse survivors who had shared her lifelong struggle.

They wondered how they were going to cope without her but reminded one another that she had given them the strength and courage to do so.

Knowing when they were about to descend into depression, she would personally ring them up, urging them to come back into the Aislinn Centre with the words: "Come on in here, we need you. I can't do this alone."

Like Christine, inset, who had survived the horrors of the Goldenbridge orphanage, they had endured years of devastating cruelty, but also like her, they had emerged at the other side with their humour, strength and – miraculously – their love of humanity not only undimmed but enhanced.

They had been shocked when they realised the funeral was to be held in a church, they admitted. For many, it had been decades since they had entered the doors of any building associated with the Catholic Church.

But with one last healing gesture of forgiveness, Christine had brought them back. And amid an avalanche of love, this fierce "warrior" of justice was sent on her final journey.

Christine's heartbroken husband Donal and their three adult children, daughter Cliona and sons Darragh and Conor, accompanying her coffin as it entered the church.

The remains were received by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who welcomed "our great friend Christine Buckley," along with parish administrator Fr Tony Coote and President of Blackrock College, Fr Cormac O Brolchain.

Also present at the funeral was Christine's Nigerian side of the family, including sisters Cynthia Emienike and Ure Kalunta, the children of Christine's father, Dr Ariwodo Kalunta.


Along with some 70 survivors of institutional abuse there to give a final thanks to Christine for all she had done for them was Carmel McDonnell-Byrne, with whom Christine had co-founded the Aislinn Centre.

Also present was the Martin family – who tried to adopt Christine as a child, but her birth mother would not sign the papers – who nevertheless had always remained in her life.

In all, more than 500 mourners filled the church of St Therese in Dublin's Mount Merrion to pay tribute, led by President Michael D Higgins, who later described Christine as a "figure of moral strength and purpose," and said he had attended the funeral to honour her courage.

The Taoiseach, who is in the US, was represented by his ADC, Ciaran Carey. Health Minister James Reilly was also there, while Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, sent her representative, Niamh Connolly. Former Attorney General John Rogers was present, along with Ireland rugby player Luke Fitzgerald, artist Kevin Sharkey, Senator Ivana Bacik, former TD Tom Kitt and CEO of Barnardo's, Fergus Finlay.

Pieces of her favourite music were played throughout the funeral, including an emotional rendition of 'Tell Me It's Not True' by Rebecca Storm.

Symbols of Christine's rich life placed on the altar included her mobile phone "because she loved to talk," some of the survivors' stories from the Aislinn Centre, a rugby jersey because she loved sport and a tiny, tattered child's shoe, which encapsulated Christine's tireless campaigning for children – while also being a tender relic of her own motherhood.

She had been fierce in her love of her babies – smothering them with hugs and kisses throughout their lives, her sons remembered tearfully. Each received a standing ovation after Mass as they paid emotional tributes to their mother.

Conor said they had often wondered how she had been such a good mother when she had no example to follow. She was "my Mom, my first love, my hero, my best friend," he said.

They went on holidays together and she often accompanied him as his "date" on nights out.

Conor recalled how he had once been "fairly tackled" on the rugby field, only for his mother to rush over and "attack the guy with an umbrella", shouting "Leave my baby alone."

"I'd just turned 22 years of age," remarked Conor with a wry smile.

Meanwhile Darragh revealed how, having been teased over his "six foot afro" in school, he had asked his mother why he "couldn't be like everyone else."

"You will never be like anyone else, because you're special. If you are the same as everyone else, you'll be forgotten like everyone else," Christine had admonished.

Christine's sister, Cynthia, said she had been "one of a kind – the most courageous, determined and most enduring woman (she) had ever met."

"Behind her tenacity and her public pursuit of justice was a humble, loving, compassionate, caring and faithful woman," she said, adding that they had been privileged to have her as a sister.

As a rendition of Eric Clapton's 'Tears in Heaven' rang out softly, accompanied by African drums, many mourners were overcome with emotion.

Christine was a "tiny voice amid a clamour of denial and recrimination", said Fr Tony Coote, but through persistence and determination her voice won freedom and vindication for the voiceless. She had represented the power of one against so many, he said.

"Perhaps belief is Christine's greatest legacy," he said, adding she had "never tarred anyone with the same brush."

"Where there was goodness and kindness she acknowledged it but where there was untruth and darkness she exposed it."


She had given everything she had, he said, adding that it was a powerful way to live."

He concluded with the poem, 'Late Fragment' by the American writer Raymond Carver.

"Did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth."

Fr Coote said that though Christine did not experience much love in her early life, she had surely left this life knowing she was beloved on the earth.

Irish Independent

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