'She made the world a better place' - funeral of Dawn Croke hears how partner placed engagement ring on her finger after death
Thousands mourn teacher killed by pick-up truck in freak school accident
The life of Donegal mother and teacher Dawn Croke was celebrated at her funeral mass today, just a short distance from where she died in a tragic accident last week.
Ms Croke, who was in her 30s, died when she was struck by a pick-up truck in the grounds of St Crona's National School in Dungloe on Thursday evening.
The popular PE and resource teacher at Rosses Community School was killed instantly. The six-year-old daughter of Ms Croke's partner, Patrick McHugh, was injured by the runaway vehicle, but was saved by the quick-thinking action of brave Ms Croke who pushed her out of the way.
Gardai are investigating what exactly caused the Ford Ranger to move forward and cause the tragedy.
Hundreds of people crammed into St Crona's Church in the West Donegal town to say one final farewell on Monday.
The priest, Fr Pat Ward, said that it wouldn't be fair to remember Dawn as somebody who had simply died tragically.
"To this family she was a dream, she was a pleasant, outgoing and happy person and she gave so much not only to them but to the entire community," he said.
"It's because of the kind of person she was that it's important that as we gather here that we remember her for who she was and the beauty of who she was and what she carried within.
"Dawn was beautiful. She carried her beauty with great grace and with great poise but her beauty wasn't just her external looks. Her beauty was also within her. It was all that she was, it was her personality, her care for others. All of these were part of who Dawn Croke was," he said.
Before the funeral mass had started, symbols of her life were brought to the altar.
They included some cosy socks, some make-up, a swimming hat, a CD and the sash she wore in 2008 after being chosen as the Dungloe contestant in the Mary from Dungloe contest.
Her younger sister Emily, supported by dad Tony, explained to the huge congregation what each item stood for in Dawn's short but beautiful life.
Emily revealed how the swimming hat represented her athletic ability and how she had been part of a relay team at college that had swam the English Channel, wrapping herself in the Irish flag at the end.
She was also head lifeguard in the local Carrickfinn Beach for ten years.
The make-up represented how Dawn didn't like to be seen without some kind of make-up on, not even in private with partner Patrick.
The sash from the Mary from Dungloe represented a time in her life she was so proud, of while the CD represented her love of music and how she loved to play the guitar and also a little fiddle.
"She only sang in the shower but she never realised how good she was," added Emily.
Emily revealed how her older sister loved being comfortable and how she even had a pair of cosy socks in her car for journeys, and a spare pair in her handbag.
A number of rings represented her love of jewellery and how she loved to look smart and feel good about herself, according to Emily.
However, the most important of these rings was the engagement ring her partner Patrick put on her finger on Friday night last after she had passed away.
Emily revealed "He wanted Dawn to go to heaven carrying it with her for the realisation of the start of her dream to become a real family."
A picture of Dawn's two little boys Jason and Callum was also brought to the altar to represent her legacy.
"She has made the world a better place by leaving these two beautiful boys here," added Emily.
Dawn's heartbroken dad said himself, his wife Ann and their family will never be able to express the gratitude to all those who helped them in their time of need and the loss of Dawn.
"We really had no clue to deal with anything regarding the whole situation," he said.
He thanked all the emergency personnel who he said "fought a hard battle" to try and keep Dawn alive.
He also thanked local GP Dr Dara McEniff, priest Fr Pat Ward, local businesses, neighbours, close friends, work colleagues and families.
"Our pain was their pain too," he said.
He thanked the hundreds of people who travelled from the four corners of Ireland as well as Australia, England and Germany and many other places.
"All we can say is a sincere and heartfelt thank-you," he added.
Among the congregation were representatives of President Michael D Higgins, his Aid De Camp, Comdt Paul O'Donnell as well as An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's Aid De Camp, Comdt Caroline Burke.
Other included local politicians Deputy Pat 'The Cope' Gallagher, councillor Enda O'Donnell as well as members of the local Dungloe GAA Club and many other community groups.
Fr Pat Ward said the community would rather be anywhere else on this day than with the Croke family saying goodbye to Dawn.
"For the Croke family and for Patrick, life had changed that day. It was a terrible thing to have happened, a terrible thing for this family to endure and our hearts go out to them.
"Every person is in this chapel is with you because they want to stand with you, they want to be with you and they want you to feel our presence. They want you to feel our strength so that in the weakness of what you feel today you will know that you are not alone and that the whole community feels this pain.
"Knowing that a day like this can come is always on a parent's mind. Every parent knows that some day this could be the case. But every parent knows too that they try to get on with each day and they try to make each day pass.
"Every parent know that they need to comfort their children, they need to love their children and I know that last Thursday so many people went home and hugged their children that night. They knew something had changed in the whole town," he said.
He added that she was also an organiser and always looked after her brothers and her sister.
Members of the Rosses Community School sang various songs throughout the emotional ceremony.
Dawn's father Tony, who is also a teacher at the Rosses Community School, constantly hugged his family and consoled his heartbroken wife through the funeral mass.
Principal of Rosses Community School, John Gorman, spoke of how Dawn and Tony were an instrumental part of the school family.
He added that it had been a pleasure to watch the love which had radiated between Tony and Dawn during their time working together in the school - "master and apprentice" as he put it.
Even the most hardened and seasoned of community members were left stunned however, when Dawn's own voice was heard towards the close of her funeral mass.
The song, a recording of Adele's 'Make You Feel My Love', which was made by Dawn as a Christmas present for her beloved mum and dad but which she made them promise not to play outside of their house.
"We kind of broke that promise today," added Fr Ward somewhat apologetically.
Hundreds of people stood outside the church in the biting January winds of West Donegal as Dawn's coffin was put into the funeral hearse to be taken to Maghery Cemetary for burial.
Gardai stood to attention and saluted the funeral cortege as it made its way from the chapel to the cemetery.
The town of Dungloe came to a standstill as Dawn Croke was driven through the town she loved so much, and which she was so much part of for one last time.
- Read more: Brendan O'Connor: 'Her name was Dawn Croke'
- Read more: Hero teacher killed by 4x4 after pushing girl (6) to safety at school