Aoife Finneran: Guests describe beautiful and elegant bride on happiest day

Aoife Finneran

A POISED and elegant bride, Michaela McAreavey broke with tradition on the day of her wedding in order to make a speech in front of friends and family.

The 27-year-old bravely took the microphone during the reception at Cavan's Slieve Russell Hotel and paid a glowing tribute to her new husband John McAreavey, as well as giving heartfelt thanks to her parents Mickey and Marian.


Speaking to the Herald, Michaela's former teacher and friend Marie Donnelly recalled the stunning bride's speech just two weeks ago.

"She said she hadn't been sure if she'd be able to make a speech but she actually got up and she spoke without a note, and it was brilliant," she said.

Michaela and Marie Donnelly first crossed paths when Michaela attended St Malachy's primary school, just a few hundred yards from her home. Over the years, the pair developed a close bond which strengthened as Michaela stayed in touch after leaving school. They later became firm friends and enjoyed a stint working together when Michaela returned to her old school to complete her teaching practice through St Mary's College in Belfast.

And on December 30 last year, Marie was one of the guests who attended Michaela's fairytale wedding to her long-term love John.

Just two weeks later, Michaela's heartbroken friend is left only with happy memories. In the midst of her grief, she felt compelled to speak out about the young woman whose death has left a family, a community, and the nation, in shock.

Marie, who still teaches in the school, admitted she is still so grief-stricken she has not yet been able to pay her respects at the Harte family home. Instead, she is taking solace from her last memories of Michaela, whom she last saw on her wedding day.

"I remember my last words to her because I thanked her for inviting me and she said: "Ah sure I couldn't have it without you," recalled Marie.

Poignantly, Marie's phone still holds the last text message she received from Michaela, sent on the day the popular teacher finished school for Christmas. It read: "Mrs D, I'm off for a month -- bring it on!"

Marie broke into a smile as she described seeing the beautiful bride arriving at the local church two weeks ago, explaining: "She came into the chapel with a huge smile on her face, and she talked the whole way through Mass, and as a teacher my instinct was to tell her to be quiet!

"When I was walking down from Communion she caught my eye and winked. Afterwards, she and John were shaking hands with everyone coming out of the church and, as I passed her, I said to her husband, 'If she gives you any trouble, just tell me', and Michaela burst out laughing."

Marie told how she and Michaela had bonded over their love of fashion because "we were both mad about clothes".


They also shared a passion for gaelic football, and would routinely meet up at half-time at matches where Michaela would always tell her: "Keep up the Hail Marys." Such was their bond that Marie was referred to as Michaela's "second mother".

The young woman's strong faith was apparent even in early life, and she was also steadfastly loyal to her favourite teacher.

More than 18 years ago, when Marie's son Dara was born, she brought him in to school one day while she was on maternity leave and introduced him to staff and students.

Michaela, then aged seven, was off school sick and was devastated to have missed her chance to see the baby. Ever resourceful, the determined child asked her father Mickey to drive her over to Mrs Donnelly's house for a private introduction.

Last year, the little baby Michaela had once been so desperate to visit all those years ago played his part in his county's minor team victories. Now aged 18, Dara Donnelly was the substitute who came on and scored a goal for Tyrone during the All-Ireland Minor semi-final.

His proud mum Marie was there on the day and recalled: "Of course Michaela knew he had scored and she made sure to come and find me afterwards. When she met me she said: 'I'll just stay here with you for a bit and I'll let John walk on ahead. Sure he's Down anyway'.

Despite their devotion to Gaelic football, neither Michaela nor Marie favoured wearing GAA jerseys. Instead, as Marie laughingly admitted, both style-conscious women possessed a staggering array of red and white tops to wear to Tyrone matches.

Alas, there will be no more shared conversations at matches, and no more chatter about clothes. Instead, Marie is left contemplating Michaela's brutally sudden death.

The photographs taken at Michaela and John's wedding remain under wraps, as Marie cannot yet bring herself to look at them. Those memories are for another day.

Now Michaela's friend and teacher is instead determined to remember only the positives, and the happy memories the accomplished, well-adjusted young woman created every day of her short life.

Offering hope to all who are mourning Michaela's death, Marie revealed: "I was sitting here the other day thinking how terrible it all is and how awful it is that this has happened to her.

"But then I think that we're all lucky that we had her for 27 years, that God gave her to us in the first place."