As hundreds of mourners paid their respects at the funeral of the father-of-two, his parish priest said the tight-knit community of Tannaghmore, Co Antrim, had lost a popular, family-orientated man.
The 39-year-old was one of six people who lost their lives when the Manx2 flight from Belfast to Cork crashed last Thursday.
Among the mourners packing out the small rural church of St MacNissius was Irish President Mary McAleese, whose husband Martin was a cousin of Mr McAleese, and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Crash survivors Lawrence Wilson and Donal Walsh also attended the funeral. They arrived separately but left together.
Mr Walsh (22), from Waterford, and Mr Wilson (53), from Co Antrim, who both walked away virtually unscathed from the Cork air crash, met yesterday for the first time since leaving hospital.
To the casual observer they were just two faces in the crowd. Mr Wilson was first to arrive, sombre-faced, with his wife May, shaking the hands of a few people who greeted him. Mr Walsh arrived with a friend, looking distraught.
After the funeral they met outside the church gates. Mr Walsh exhaled forcefully, greatly shaken. They talked for a moment and then walked up the road together with their heads bowed, deep in private conversation as the rain poured down.
Two marquees were set up but the hundreds who turned up spilled out on to the roadside despite unrelenting rain.
The Mass, presided over by Canon Malachy Murphy, was broadcast over speakers to mourners outside.
Mr McAleese’s wife Anne Marie clutched the hands of her daughters Ava (5) and Erin (3) as they walked behind the coffin in matching red, flower-patterned raincoats. Canon Murphy likened the sudden and tragic death to “when the lights go out”.
“Without the slightest warning or the slightest chance to prepare ourselves we are plunged into darkness,” he said. “In the space of a moment our whole life is turned upside down. Nothing has prepared us for this.”
He described Mr McAleese as a family man who, with his wife, brought his young children to Mass every Sunday.
“He adored Anne Marie, Ava and Erin. All his energies were geared to providing for them.
“He had a warm personality, honest and generous. He looked out for others. There wasn’t a selfish bone in his body.”
The businessman was described as “very popular” and “the heart and soul” of any gathering. “Where Brendan was, there was plenty of fun and banter,” he said. “With that mischievous smile he had the ability to make people laugh. He was a great man to be around.”
As the coffin left the church to the hymn Be Not Afraid, mourners formed a guard of honour. His devastated family comforted each other in the grey February afternoon.
But it was the looks of utter loss on the faces of his two young daughters, being carried by family members behind their father’s coffin, which brought tears to the eyes of onlookers.
Mr McAleese’s body was buried in Belmont cemetery after the service.
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