The absence of Eithne Walls from the lives of her family will be as substantial as her presence had been, family and friends at her memorial Mass heard.
Several hundred people came to the Church of Mary, Mother of the Church in Saintfield to honour the memory of the talented young woman, who had danced on Broadway and was pursuing her ambition to be an eye-surgeon.
The homily was given by Eithne’s uncle, Father Michael Gourty. Hymns were sung by the parish choir and the choir of Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch, where Eithne was a former pupil.
Flowers, a picture, the Gospels and a cross were on a table where a coffin would otherwise have been. Fr Gourty said the family could scarcely take in the enormity of their loss, but were comforted by their religious faith.
Describing his niece, one of four children, he said: “She was an extraordinary person who brought light to the life of everyone she touched. We are privileged that we knew her for her short life.
“She was beautiful in every way, especially of spirit. Her memory will stay with us for ever.
“Eithne achieved so much in her short life and did so without fuss. She was without affectation or guile. She was truly a joy among us.
“That beautiful face and unique spirit drew everyone to her.
“She was one of those people for whom it was effortless to reach out to others.” Yet Eithne’s family and friends would always be surrounded by memories. “We will never hear a piece of Irish music without thinking of her practising on the garage floor, the feiseanna and world competitions which culminated in that glorious year on Riverdance before she commenced her studies to become a doctor.”
Eithne, who had performed on Broadway for a year as part of the ‘flying squad’ for Riverdance, was a gracious and wholesome person.
“You never heard a ungracious word or negative thing from Eithne, and if she did hear such a thing, she would turn it round and make it into something wholesome and positive.
“She enriched our lives with warmth, beauty and grace.”
Fr Gourty spoke at length of the place she occupied in her close-knit family — father Raymond, mother Mary, sister Kathryn and brothers Gerard and Ray. She was a beloved sister, “the apple of her father’s eye and his darling daughter”.
Fr Gourty said those who mourned the young doctor would be comforted by a saying in Irish, “those who have died have not gone away from us, they have gone ahead of us.”
“Eithne, your absence will be as substantial as your presence.”
‘Our memories will comfort us’
The family of Eithne Walls will never understand why she was taken from them, but will be comforted by their faith and their memories, her father has said.
Raymond Walls spoke at the close of a memorial Mass celebrating the life of his 28-year-old daughter, who died on an Air France jet which crashed in the Atlantic two weeks ago.
Several hundred people descended on the Church of Mary in Saintfield to pay tribute to Miss Walls, among 228 passengers and crew on the flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1.
Mr Walls thanked those who had visited the family at their home in Ballygowan in the days since the devastating plane crash.
“We are extremely grateful for prayers, love and support from so many people too numerous to list individually, but please know your kind words, thoughts and actions have given us enormous strength and comfort.
“Eithne was very special and a wonderful person. No words I could use to describe her could add to the numerous tributes paid to her. While all those kind words do her justice, to her family she was so much more. We will never understand why she was taken from us.
“Our faith and memories of her will in time, we hope, ease the pain. Eithne's love will envelope us all and give us strength the coming days and help us all.”
He paid tribute to Jane Deasy and Aisling Butler, the friends who died alongside Eithne.
The trio, who met while studying medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, were “exceptional women” who were “adventurous and full of vitality”.
“They were surely an example to us all.”