Saturday 20 January 2018

Tears for two little princesses

Grieving mother an inspiration, says priest

Una Butler (second left) is supported by her mother as she follows the coffins of her daughters Ella and Zoe at their funeral Mass in Ballycotton, Co Cork, yesterday. CLARE KEOGH/PROVISION
Una Butler (second left) is supported by her mother as she follows the coffins of her daughters Ella and Zoe at their funeral Mass in Ballycotton, Co Cork, yesterday. CLARE KEOGH/PROVISION

Ralph Riegel

A YOUNG mother who buried her "two little princesses" yesterday after they were killed by their own father was described as an inspiration to her community.

Tragic scenes marked the funerals of Zoe Butler (6) and Ella (2) in the devastated east Cork fishing village of Ballycotton.

The small white coffins of the two sisters were brought to the Star of the Sea Church from the Ballyrahan bungalow in which they died last Tuesday.

The girls were killed by their father, John Butler (41), who later doused himself in petrol and crashed his car at speed into a ditch. He had been treated for depression over the past year. The little girls' funeral cortege later passed the very spot where Mr Butler had died.


Zoe and Ella's mother, Una Butler (nee O'Riordan), was supported by her parents, Don and Mary, as she walked behind the coffins into the Church for the Mass of the Angels.

She carried each child's baptismal candle in her hands.

A cousin walking behind carried toys belonging to the two little girls, including a red-and-white stuffed kitty, judo and gymnastic medals and some plastic toys.

Ballycotton curate Fr Aidan Crowley -- who concelebrated the Mass with seven other priests -- told tearful mourners in the packed church that Una had shown remarkable charity and courage.

"You have the support of the entire parish. Everybody is so much behind you and so much for you at this difficult time," he told the heartbroken woman.

"You have been an incredible inspiration to all of us -- even to the clergy. You have been an incredible inspiration with your faith and with your fortitude and how you led us through this as well," he said.

Fr Crowley described the two girls as "a mischievous little princess" and "a proud big sister". He recalled how Ella had really enjoyed the recent parish Halloween party and not even her beloved older sister could get her off the dance floor.

Zoe, for her part, was very proud of her studies in 1st Class at Realt na Mhara National School. More than 70 of her school friends provided a guard of honour following the funeral Mass yesterday.

Zoe was so proud of learning the 'Our Father' prayer in Irish that she had insisted on trying to teach it to her baby sister, of whom she was very protective.

"They were two beautiful little girls -- two little princesses," Fr Crowley said.

"If you think of a two-year old child, you have Ella. She was a good child and, as all two-year- olds are, she was mischievous. She loved everything that a two- year-old loves and particularly loved her big sister."

He recalled how Ella had recently managed to get herself locked into a wardrobe in the family home -- and the wardrobe had to be dismantled to get her out. "Zoe, on the other hand, had a great understanding, even at six years, of her little sister. Zoe understood that and was a very caring and very understanding little girl. She also loved school and would always arrive with a spring in her step. What beautiful girls," he said.

Fr Crowley said the children had lived an idyllic existence with a loving family and with their Ballyraher home overlooking the panoramic beauty of Ballycotton Bay.

"We ask ourselves today the question: what went wrong?" he said.

Fr Crowley said he could not offer an answer to that question -- but could offer the support and solidarity of the entire community for the two families who had been affected. He also asked for prayers for John Butler and his family.

"We also think today of their dad, John. John loved his two children. Don't take my word for that -- take the word of the parish. Take the word of Una. John loved his children -- he would do anything for his children," Fr Crowley said.

The congregation was told that, if anything, John Butler was overprotective of his little girls.

After the funeral Mass, Zoe and Ella were buried side-by-side in Cloyne Cemetery.

Mr Butler's remains -- which had lain in repose in the family home beside his daughters on Thursday night -- were removed to his native Cobh shortly after 10am yesterday.

He will be buried after 10am Requiem Mass today at St Colman's Cathedral.

Irish Independent

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