Thursday 22 March 2018

She danced until the small hours, celebrating her happiest day ever

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

TWO powerful images of love and loss haunt Michaela's family.

Her wide smile on the day she married John McAreavey will never be forgotten.

Guests remember Michaela beaming throughout the ceremony as she stood next to her Co Down footballer.

On that day -- Thursday, December 30, 2010 -- Mickey Harte was the tallest man in Ireland. It was his proudest moment as a father.

He gave his "little jewel" away to her childhood sweetheart.

Inside St Malachy's church in Ballymacilroy all of the young couple's dreams came true. They had spent years chatting excitedly about their future together and finally the world was at their feet.

White lilies and white balloons adorned the church. Everybody's eyes were fixed on the beautiful bride.

Twelve days later, exhilaration turned to despair. John found Michaela's lifeless body lying in the bathtub inside room 1025 of the luxury Legends Hotel. She had been brutally strangled.

It's hard to believe that just a fortnight earlier, guests had arrived at St Malachy's to attend Michaela and John's nuptials.

"What a day she had on her wedding day. She was just radiant, a beautiful girl, and I just love her to bits. So did her whole family. We are so devastated," Mickey Harte said after her murder.

Her said that he had "never seen a bride radiate such exuberance from the moment she woke until she retired in the early hours of the next day".

"It was a privilege to share in what can only be described as the giddy excitement that ran through Michaela's veins that morning as she sensed the reality of what she was about to embark upon," he said.

"Even the solemnity of the exchange of marriage vows before chief celebrant Bishop John McAreavey never dampened the child-like wonder she reflected.

"Indeed a similar sense of bliss was evident on John's face as they began their special journey together as husband and wife, which they and all of us hoped, would be their blessing into old age."

The combination of the wedding and Michaela's birthday celebrations after midnight, surrounded by their dearest family and friends, was their "heaven on earth".

Close family friend Tony Donnelly recalled how Michaela looked blissful as she emerged from the church.

"When I came out of the chapel after the wedding, I said: 'Michaela, you smiled all during the ceremony'. And she said: 'Why not, it's the happiest day of my life'."


Tony knew Michaela since she was born as he has been friends with her parents, Mickey and Marian, for 40 years.

He described Michaela as a "lovely girl" who "brightened up any company that she was ever part of".

After the ceremony, Michaela and John celebrated their big day with 300 friends and family members in the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan.

Michaela partied like the "best of them" -- even though she never touched alcohol -- and danced at her wedding until the small hours.

One of the couple's friends, and a teammate of John McAreavey's at Tullylish GAA club, remembered how Michaela was "always on the top of the world".

"She knew how to have a good time. It didn't matter that she didn't drink, she didn't need to."

After the wedding, the couple set off on their honeymoon. They were looking forward to coming home -- as they had bought a house in Lawerencetown near Banbridge, Co Down.

Unlike most young couples their age, Michaela (27) and John (26) decided to wait until they were married before moving in together.

Sadly, they never got to spend their first night together in their new home where everything was waiting for them.

The couple had saved up and furnished the home -- and even had a spare room ready for Michaela's parents, Mickey and Maria -- to come and visit.

Today, Michaela's remains lie in the graveyard next to St Malachy's church. She was buried in her wedding dress.

The photograph of Michaela's bright smile on the happiest day of her life is in the centre of a wooden cross bearing her name. There is no headstone but rosary beads hang from around the cross and flowers, a St Brigid's cross, holy water and candles are placed on the grave.

Mickey Harte, his wife, Marian, and Michaela's three brothers Mark, Michael and Matthew -- and her husband, John McAreavey -- are living their "worst nightmare".

The Hartes share a "special bond" with John McAreavey and the two families lean on each other for support.

At the time of Michaela's brutal killing, Mickey Harte said: "This is the worst nightmare that anyone can imagine. If you think things can be bad, then you go beyond that because that is where we are.

"This is too horrible to contemplate. We are just all devastated. It is the worst of the worst and our hearts are broken."

Irish Independent

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