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Concepta Leonard funeral: Priest in funeral tribute to brave Conor, who tried to save mother from evil killer

By Donna Deeney

While evil lurked in the shadow, seeking to destroy life, a devoted son cared for and tried to protect his mum from the man who murdered her, mourners were told yesterday.

Hundreds of people packed the Church of Saint Mary in Brookeborough to pay their final respects to Concepta (Connie) Leonard, a gifted musician.

They heard Fr Brendan Gallagher pay tribute to the bravery of Ms Leonard's only son, Conor.

The 30-year-old, who suffered stab wounds trying to protect his mother, braved the pain from his injuries to help carry her coffin into the tiny church that overflowed with people who had come to honour her.

Monday's attack was carried out by Ms Leonard's former partner Peadar Phair, whose body was also found at her Co Fermanagh house.

He took his own life after murdering her.

Hundreds of people from across Fermanagh and the traditional Irish music fraternity stood in silence at the church for Requiem Mass.

Guards of honour were formed by members of the Fire Service, the County Comhaltas and local school children as Ms Leonard's coffin was taken inside.

In an unusual but fitting final tribute, young musicians tutored by Ms Leonard encircled her coffin after Mass and played Irish traditional tunes as Conor waved his hand in tribute to his mother.

In his homily, Fr Gallagher said: "These past few days have been a great challenge to the faith of this family, this community, because on Monday afternoon in the light of a May day, evil intent visited this peaceful community.

"Evil lurking in the shadow, seeking to destroy life but, in that moment of madness, Conor cared for and protected his mum.

"We see him holding her hand to reassure her and we see him finding the courage and confidence to see help.

"That is the reality, the horror of evil intent. Since that time, this family, this community have stood in the light, to confront, to overcome the dark shadows that seek to destroy life."

Five months ago Ms Leonard (51) ended her five-year relationship with 55-year-old Phair and took steps to protect herself and her son from him.

She went to court and was granted a non-molestation order, which meant that Phair was not permitted to go anywhere near them or the family home.

This order was due to be renewed by the same court last Tuesday, but Phair, clearly intent on destroying any aspirations Ms Leonard had for a future without him, arrived at her home last Monday evening and forced his way inside. The exact chain of events which followed are still unclear. Ms Leonard's body was found in the house at Abbey Road.

Conor was found with stab wounds to his stomach, but was released from hospital in time for the funeral. Fr Gallagher reminded those who loved Ms Leonard that the "circumstances and tragedy" of her death could not destroy the love that was in her heart.

He continued: "Where is our God in this moment of evil? Could this tragedy have been avoided if circumstances had been different? We know that Connie would not want family or friends thinking or feeling that way because, for her, she had Conor with her and that was the most important person she wanted with her at that moment.

"The circumstances and the tragedy of Connie's death cannot destroy the love that was in her heart and soul. The love that all of you, family and friends received from her."

Ms Leonard was a prominent figure within the Irish traditional music scene, as is her son, her father Dinny, and wider family circle.

Her passion and talent for music was at the core of her Requiem Mass.

Three All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann medals she was awarded for accordion instrumental music, as well her accordion, were carried to the altar as representations of her life.

Fr Gallagher told the mourners: "Connie possessed so many beautiful gifts but she carried them in a very unassuming, humble way.

"Born into a family home that was filled with the sound of music and, from the age of six, she travelled with her father Dinny to music sessions and fleadhs the length and breath of Ireland.

"It was a gift she wanted to share with others - with her energy and enthusiasm, her infectious smile and the twinkle in her eye she has left a legacy of musical talent for generations to come."

Away from the Irish traditional music scene, Ms Leonard was, above all, a devoted mother to Conor.

Fr Gallagher said: "For Connie, the death of her mother Moira was a great loss but the absence of a mother's love was reclaimed when she gave life to her own son Conor. She was a devoted mother and, together, they shared a special bond of love. Conor was at the heart of everything in her life and, together, they developed friendships and lived experiences that most of us could only dream about.

"Conor had complete faith and trust in her and she, as a mother, gave him the confidence to live an independent life." The tragic and shocking circumstances that struck the heart of the small community around Brookeborough and Maguiresbridge has not lessened in the days since Ms Leonard was murdered.

It was etched on the faces of the hundreds who gathered at St Mary's Church, among them, Sonny McDermott, chairman of the local Irish music society.

In an earlier tribute to her, Parish Priest Fr Campbell said: "Connie was very well-known in Irish music circles, like her father Dinny, and would have taught hundreds of students in preparation for Fleadhs down the years.

"She was very talented and taught different instruments like the accordion, the fiddle, the banjo and drums.

"She was a big part of the community, and she will be very much missed.

"It's unbelievable, you couldn't explain how much of a loss it is."

Canon Lawrence Dawson, who knew Ms Leonard for many years, has provided spiritual comfort to the family in their grief this week. He said: "In the midst of the horror and terrible tragedy we have been put, there is light in the love of God and the way people have come to the family to pray with them, to offer their sympathy and to share their wonderful memories of Connie.

"Conor, thankfully, got out of hospital on Wednesday and so was able to be at the house, surrounded by his family and friends.

"This has been so hard on the whole family who are still coming to terms with their loss, we all are. I have known Connie for many, many years and I was very fond of her."

Hymns and music accompanied the family and congregation as they filed out behind the coffin, as Ms Leonard's remains were carried from the church, to be buried in the adjoining cemetery.

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