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Sinead Ryan: Cruellest fate as wedding balloons now point way to funeral

OF ALL the images striking through the heart of Ballygawley village, the most poignant is the pair of cheery white balloons, stuck to a tree and an arrow, pointing the way to St Malachy's Church.

They were placed there, possibly by a groomsman or other family member, to help out-of-towners find their way to the wedding of the year: that of Michaela Harte to her sweetheart John McAreavey less than two weeks ago.

Now they will point the way to her funeral.

Whatever your religious persuasion, a church is the very heart of any town Its pews see all of life – from the tiniest newborn being christened to the most elderly citizen saying goodbye to the world.

It shares joy and tears with its community and sometimes, is the centre for the cruellest of fates – a place for a bemused gathering, bereft at the snatching of a young newlywed in her prime.

We bring flowers and cards because we don't know what else to do. We say “Sorry for your trouble” knowing “trouble” doesn't even begin to cover the half of it.

The stark difference in clothing announces to any passerby that no, this isn't the wedding so cheerfully directed from the roadway, but a sad day, sombre and dull.

Michaela's body, only a fortnight ago, radiant in white, smiling and joyous, will now, in the very same church, lie in a wooden casket. Her family will sit once again in the front pews, but instead of morning suits and carnations in their lapels, it will be black overcoats.

The tears, which may have escaped during the wedding Mass as everyone saw Michaela for the first time looking so beautiful on the arm of her father Mickey, will flow freely now, unchecked.


Many of the same people who threw confetti at the wedding, will be at the funeral and many more will come from miles around. Death is not elitist. There is no invitation.

And whose heart won’t break again at the sight of the children from St Patrick's Academy where Michaela taught Irish?

They might sing a hymn, or line the route to the church, but they will be distraught, confused and upset. This isn't supposed to happen. That feeling won't end at St Malachy's of course.

Michaela, who was such a vibrant presence in life, will be missed ever more sorely by those who knew her.

Her pupils in school who will expect her to walk into the classroom any minute; her neighbours to whom she might have waved a cheery hello on the street; the crowd at the GAA matches where Michaela was as regular an attendee as clockwork; by her family who will never be the same again and her husband, who was only able to use that precious title for less than a fortnight before it was swapped for the one he now carries: widower.


It sits poorly on a handsome young man in his prime and it's a nonsensical burden for him to carry.

But then everything about this tragedy makes little sense.