THE Irish father of two who died in the New Zealand earthquake had made "express wishes" to be buried on home soil if anything happened to him.
The family of Owen McKenna (40) yesterday described how they had been "hoping against hope" that the psychiatric nurse had escaped unharmed from the fatal tremors in Christ-church on Tuesday.
Mr McKenna -- originally from Brackagh, Emyvale, Co Monaghan -- spoke to his wife, Sarah, on the phone shortly before he was killed. They had initially thought he had gone to help those who were injured in the quake -- but began to worry when they could not get in contact with him.
The Government was still concerned about the fate of two other Irish people who are thought to have been in the region when the earthquake hit and who were not contactable last night.
Sarah McKenna (nee Lothian), and their children Grace (7) and Tadhg -- who turns four tomorrow -- were away visiting her family on another island as the disaster struck.
His mother, Theresa McKenna, and his seven siblings received a phone call to inform them the qualified nurse was feared dead shortly after the earthquake.
Local parish priest Fr Sean Nolan said Mrs McKenna phoned him on Tuesday afternoon to tell him of the tragedy.
"She was still hoping against hope that he wasn't caught up in it but she knew the risks were very serious. He was in Christchurch and the disaster had happened in Christchurch, so they were very real fears and concerns on her part at that stage," he said.
His brothers, Kieran and Brendan, yesterday spoke about the tragedy outside the rural family bungalow in Brackagh where a steady stream of neighbours and friends were visiting to express their sympathies with the family.
Brendan said he had heard the news of the earthquake at 6am on the day it occurred, and that there were 65 people feared dead. He sent a text to Sarah as she is always swift to respond.
"She rang me back to tell me Owen wasn't at home and hadn't turned in for work," Brendan said. They both thought the trained nurse might be helping out with the injured people.
"It was only later that we started to worry considerably," he said.
Mr McKenna finished school at St McCartan's college in Monaghan in 1987 and went to London to train to become a nurse.
He later worked in Saudi Arabia, where he met his wife Sarah, a physiotherapist from New Zealand, whose parents were Scottish.
They returned to Monaghan to be married before they travelled back to her native New Zealand in 2002.
Schoolfriend Fabian Murphy said Mr McKenna was a well-known and popular man around the area.
"He was a very funny fellow. He was very easy-going. He wouldn't fall out with anybody," Mr Murphy said.
Mr McKenna is survived by his sisters Bernadette, Maria, Angela and Catherine, his brothers Kieran, Enda and Brendan and his mother Theresa, also known as Teasy. His father Mick died in 1995.
He is the only Irish person who has been confirmed dead as a result of the earthquake.
Another man who died is married to an Irish woman living in New Zealand.
A diplomat from the Irish embassy in Canberra is being sent to New Zealand.