Sunday 17 December 2017

'We live the only way we can now, one day at a time'

As the pre-trial of Michaela Harte's alleged killers begins, the bond between her father and husband has deepened. Barry Duggan and Eimear Ni Bhraonain in Mauritius report

'I said on Michaela's wedding day that she picked well, and I'm beginning to realise every day since that she picked even better than I thought. He's just a gem of a man."

On Wednesday evening, Mickey Harte had just arrived at the Corpus Christi church in Moyross, Limerick, when he spoke about his son-in-law. In the evening sunshine, he looked tired but, as usual, immaculate in brown slacks and a blue blazer.

As he prepared to give an address to parishioners about bereavement and how to cope, people approached him and nearly all addressed him by his first name.

He warmly greeted each one and thanked them for their good wishes.

Then he spoke to some journalists and, as his quiet words tumbled out, onlookers realised just how much John McAreavey means to him. They have each other now.

Six months after his precious only daughter Michaela was brutally murdered in Mauritius, Mickey and John are on a journey together, a journey neither of them wanted.

Both men are clinging to their faith as they navigate the nightmare that has engulfed them with the murder of 27-year-old Michaela, allegedly killed by hotel staff on her dream honeymoon.

Last December 30, the Tyrone manager was the proudest man in the country when he gave away his daughter, a former Rose of Tralee contestant, in St Malachy's church in Ballymacilroy, close to the Harte family home.

Michaela and 26-year-old John's happy smiles dazzled all those who saw their wedding photograph when it made front-page news.

This week Mickey was doing his best to put the pre-trial proceedings of his daughter's alleged killers, which is currently taking place in Mauritius, to the back of his mind. Instead he focused on rebuilding a family life. The GAA boss, revered by his own Tyrone players and fans, is trying to fill his time, trying to fill the huge void left by her passing.

'Detached' was the word he used to describe his feelings towards the legal process in that country.

But it cannot be easy. Mickey was in Limerick to attend solemn novena celebrations, where he addressed a packed gathering on his experiences of bereavement.

In the months after the murder, he has tried to get some sort of family life back on track. The details of the murder inquiry and court proceedings can come at another time.

Moyross, a community that has suffered numerous tragedies, seemed an appropriate setting as Mickey spoke of his faith and belief in a higher power to help his family through.

"Well, you just have to accept that life has us in a new place. God and Michaela will give us the strength to cope with the difficult times and it is probably when the times are difficult that they are closer to us, and I believe that.

"That belief gives me solace and strength and the ability to know that it is a day at a time. That is the only way we can live our life now."

John, a Down footballer, is now back at work and, just weeks ago, he took part again in his county's preparations for this year's GAA football championship.

Mickey said of him: "He's devastated, as you would expect he would be. He's a really good lad and we are privileged to have him as our son-in-law."

In the village where John was supposed to grow old with Michaela -- Tullylish, Co Down -- he has the support of his parents and the entire community. But nothing can replace Michaela.

In Co Tyrone, at St Malachy's primary school, her smiling face is everywhere. Nobody will forget Michaela and her teachers and family are so proud of her that they treasure her memory by hanging photographs of her on the walls.

As Moyross parish priest Fr Tony O'Riordan welcomed Mickey to the northside Limerick community, an onlooker recalled how Mickey and John had been in Limerick just two months ago to see the Dalai Lama speak. Both had taken great solace from that occasion.

Sport is also helping. For the first time in the evening in Limerick, a smile broke out when Mickey was asked about his involvement in this year's football championship with Tyrone.

"Ultimately, when all is said and done, the bookies aren't so far out usually and they point to Kerry, Cork and Dublin as the big contenders. I'll let them [the bookies] believe that for now," he quipped.

Before Michaela's murder, Mickey had been invited to speak to numerous communities around the country. He regards all invitations as a privilege and continues to make time for those invites from across the country. "If the way in which we have tried to deal with what's happened to us over the years -- not just in the last six months -- is of some help to others in the way they live their lives, then that's a useful thing to do and that's why I'm here," he added.

As he spoke, the wheels of justice were beginning to turn thousands of miles away in Mauritius.

The judicial process could take months yet and Mickey and John can expect to learn more painful details of Michaela's final moments as the accused go on trial.

The pre-trial last week of two former hotel workers in Legends has provided claim and counter claim as the men pinpointed for the crime accuse police of brutality and torture.

As the case began, it was business as usual in Mauritius where the waves were lapping gently on the pristine white sandy beaches and honeymoon couples sipped daiquiris.

It is winter season in Grande Gaube on the north-eastern corner of the island, but the sun shines almost all year round.

Couples last week sat in the Banyan restaurant in Legends. This is where John spent his last moments with Michaela.

General Manager Brice Lunot sighed as he remembered how striking Michaela and John looked as a couple in his hotel.

On January 10, Michaela, wearing a colourful striped bikini and a brown skirt, was enjoying the sunshine and had some lunch with her husband before leaving the table to fetch some biscuits -- brought from home to eat with her cup of tea -- from her room. There, she was attacked and killed.

Mr Lunot revealed staff gathered recently to see a DVD of the RTé documentary on Michaela.

"I watched this and I saw Mickey Harte, Michaela's father, saying he was grateful for the years he spent with his daughter, he don't (sic) have a single word of anger," he added.

Mr Lunot was one of the few people allowed inside room 1025 when Michaela's body was lying on the floor in the aftermath of her killing. He witnessed how inconsolable and distressed John was after the incident and never left his side.

The manager is still traumatised and haunted by what happened in his hotel. He fully co-operated with the investigation and handed over every CCTV recording to the police in their bid to catch Michaela's killer.

"I want justice for Michaela, I want the one who has committed this to be brought to justice," he said.

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