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A community united in sorrow

AMID the constant slew of sympathisers making their way up the steep hill towards the Harte family home, it was easy to miss the famous faces.

GAA broadcasting legend Micheal O Muircheartaigh was one of several sporting icons who, with his wife Helena, travelled to pay tribute to Michaela.

Poignantly, the recently-retired Micheal was another GAA man whose daughter, Doireann, was regularly by his side as he went about his work in Croke Park.

As dusk fell on the hilly countryside around the rural parish of Ballygawley, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness made his way into the house to express his sympathies to the heartbroken parents and brothers of Michaela Harte.

However, of all the sightings outside the elegant family home yesterday, none was more poignant than the vision of Mickey Harte and his sons Michael and Matthew emerging to make a brief statement to the media.

Revered as a colossus in the GAA world, his immense personal tragedy appeared to have reduced him to a shadow of his former self.

Well dressed in a shirt and blazer adorned with his Pioneer pin, the Tyrone man appeared frail and shaken, supported by his two ashen-faced sons as he spoke.


His eldest son Mark was already en route to Mauritius .

There, he has the unenviable task of making the arrangements to bring the body of his little sister home.

Throughout the day, the narrow, winding road leading up to the Harte home played host to a constant footfall.

Locals, friends and relatives, who joined in the joyous celebration of Michaela's wedding less than two weeks ago, now came to sympathise with the heaviest of hearts.

It was from the Harte family home that Michaela left to get married on December 30.

And next week, in the cruellest of all endings, she will once again return to her childhood home to be waked.

Despite spending fewer than four years on the teaching staff, Michaela Harte certainly left her mark on St Patrick's Girls Academy in Dungannon. Following her appointment as Irish and Religion teacher in 2007, the "vibrant and popular teacher" began working to set up the school's first Pioneer group.

A life-long Pioneer herself, Michaela had proudly sported the badge when she took to the stage as the Ulster Rose in the 2004 Rose of Tralee.

Inside the reception area of the vast building, staff had thoughtfully paid a public tribute to the murdered woman with a photograph displayed on a screen.

Yesterday evening, emotional staff members gathered together in the school's oratory for a special prayer service.

And throughout the day, students filed in to sign a book of condolences for their slain teacher.

A prayer service was also held to allow all of Michaela's pupils, aged from 11 to 18, to pay their respects.

Counselling services are also being made available to all staff and students.

Several young men, bundled into GAA tracksuit tops emblazoned with the crest of the local club Errigal Ciaran, stood in groups alongside the road leading to the Hartes' home, faces pale and strained as they struggled to contemplate the tragedy that had befallen the county's most famous family.

To the side of the home, a large white marquee had been erected, having been deposited earlier by a local company. It marquee was just one of the many signs of a community at work.

Just five miles away on the Omagh Road, scores of locals and members of Club Errigal Ciaran gathered at Kelly's Inn yesterday evening, all keen to offer their services to help in any way possible.

With the entire community reaching out to help the Hartes in their time of need, the meeting was convened in order for locals to create an organised plan for all volunteers.

Their gesture was, in every sense, an illustration of what a distressed Mickey Harte had meant when he earlier expressed his gratitude for the support, saying "thank God for good people".