Belfast Telegraph

Donegal drowning tragedy funeral homily: Speaking notes of Father Patrick O'Kane

When the news broke on Sunday evening that a terrible accident had happened on Buncrana pier my prayers for the dead and bereaved included a prayer for the priest who would have to face the family and at the funeral try to make sense of this tragedy.

Little did I think I was praying for myself. Then at seven o' clock on Monday morning I got a call. "It's Louise here, Fr Paddy," she said. 'That was my husband, my children, my mother, my sister that died yesterday evening."

Stunned, I later made my way to her home where the grief was palpable.

Grown men stood, red-eyed, in silence. Words could not come to my lips to put any shape on what I felt inside.

A reverend silence felt more appropriate as I gripped her hand. As I kissed her cheek, I tasted the salt of her tears. "I am so, so sorry" was all I could muster, and I hoped it was enough.

There comes a time when you struggle with doubt and darkness, when you stand on the brink of emptiness and despair, of anguish, fear and loneliness, that you are tempted to ask: Is there a God? And if there is, where is He now? If you are a God of kindness and compassion, come out of your hiding place and show yourself. Tomorrow, Good Friday, we will hear Christ on the Cross scream out: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

We can make our own that lonely, painful prayer of desolation today.

We struggle today to find words to speak the unspeakable. We are bewildered by the intensity of this grief for I know Louise that - as I have already said- there is nothing I can say today to alleviate your pain and sense of loss.

This is a desert experience, barren of any comfort, as we search for an oasis of hope in this bleak landscape and as we struggle to find any refreshing words of life and healing.

When I visited the funeral home on Tuesday morning and saw the five coffins, their occupants so peaceful in that sleep we call death, I broke down in tears. I was bereft and deep sighs came from my heart. When finally prompted to pray by the undertaker, the words seemed to echo, so empty and hollow.

And yet there is one little sliver of light, one ray of hope bravely breaking through the dark clouds and it is that little Rioghnach-Ann has been saved.

As Louise says to me again and again: "She is my only reason to go on living."

I baptised her at this font on 23rd January in the company of her parents Louise and Sean, her godparents Joshua and Gemma and her extended family. The day before I paid them a visit at St Eithne's Park where they made me welcome and asked me to bless their beautiful little family home.

While I was there I was told that little Evan had muscular dystrophy and how Louise has so far raised £16,000 for that charity, including a tandem parachute jump from 14,000 feet.

Two weeks ago we were gathered as a family when he made his first confession - that same little Evan who, when his mother phoned him at five to seven on Sunday evening as they sat on the pier to watch the sunset, said: "Mammy I miss you so much. I am going to give you the biggest, tightest hug you ever got, when I see you again."

Today Jesus tells us not to be self-centred, but self-giving, not to be hard-hearted but life-giving for actions speak louder than words. It is not about "what's in it for me or us?" but about "what's in it for others?" We saw it in the self-sacrifice of Sean on Sunday evening as he desperately tried to save his family.

We saw that altruism again in the bravery of Davitt Walsh who saved the life of Rioghnach-Ann by swimming out to rescue her. Davitt, today we salute you as our hero.

We had a meeting in our parochial house on Tuesday when Louise and her family met you to thank you for all you did and also your girlfriend Stephanie Knox for her quick thinking as she warmed the baby's little blue body back to life.

Louise thanked you both sincerely from the bottom of her heart and for trying to save the lives of her sons. "Don't blame yourself that you did not do more - we are so grateful for what you did," she said. Davitt once played senior football and he looks a fit man, all of which stood to him in his ordeal. "It could easily have been seven deaths, not five," Louise added, before passing the baby to Davitt to hold. She opened her beautiful blue eyes, smiled up at him and had a big yawn.

Louise, your faith is strong as I hear you say how your sons Mark and Evan, partner Sean, mother Ruth and Jodi-Lee your only sister, are now reunited in Heaven with your little baby Joshua who lived for only 17 hours. You are just going to have to wait a little longer until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan.

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