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Donegal pier tragedy mum's heartache and the little life she is clinging to - over a thousand in attendance at funeral but Louise looked loneliest woman on earth

By Ivan Little

In the end it was all too much for Louise McGrotty, but it was only as the forlorn mother carried her youngest son's tiny white coffin out of a church in Derry yesterday that her strength, dignity and composure that had inspired a city gave way to tears.

Somehow she'd found the resilience to read a poem at the Requiem Mass about the freak accident which claimed the lives of her partner Sean McGrotty, her two sons Mark and Evan, her mother Ruth Daniels and her sister Jodi-Lee.

Louise had also found the words to thank courageous Donegal hero Davitt Walsh for saving the life of her little daughter Rioghnach-Ann whom he'd rescued from the waters off Buncrana pier on Sunday evening as he dived into Lough Swilly without a thought for his own safety after the family car slipped off the algae-covered pier.

Somehow Louise had also managed to help organise the funeral for three generations of her family who perished as they watched the sun setting over the lough - which locals call the Lake of Shadows - just minutes after talking to her on the phone as she attended a hen party in England.

Earlier as the five coffins emerged from her home at St Eithne's Park, Louise was surrounded by friends and well-wishers including the Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and his Sinn Fein colleague Raymond McCartney.

But there were times on the solemn journey to Requiem Mass for her family a mile away at the Holy Family church that Louise looked like the loneliest woman in the world.

She cut a bereft figure as she gently placed Evan's small white coffin into the first of the five hearses which had his name spelled out in a floral tribute.

Evan and Mark were both dressed in the red and white of their favourite football teams, Derry City and Manchester United.

Their father Sean was wearing a Celtic top.

Two PSNI motorcycle outriders travelled in front of the five hearses which wound their way slowly and carefully down the hill towards the church as hundreds of people lined the roads, their eyes drawn to Louise who walked in the front row of the mourners in the sorrowful cortege which passed St Eithne's Primary School where Evan's friends had tied brightly coloured balloons to the railings alongside their parents' bouquets of flowers.

The respectful and stunned silence around Ballymagroarty was broken only by the toll of a bell in the distance from the Holy Family Church where more than a thousand people who were unable to get a seat stood outside.

Children from the schools attended by the three youngest victims of the Buncrana nightmare formed guards of honour for their friends.

Many of them - and older people nearby - wept unashamedly as the five hearses inched their way into the church grounds.

Footballing colleagues of Derry City player Joshua Daniels, whose mother and sister died at Buncrana, were also lined up at the entrance to the church, all of them wearing their Derry City tracksuits.

The five hearses drew up alongside one another in the Holy Family car park and a woman read out the names of the people who were to carry the coffins from the funeral vehicles.

It all made for a heartbreaking tableau as the five coffins were borne into the church where the Parish Priest Fr Patrick O'Kane said: "We are plunged in grief, even the heavens are crying."

Not since the joint funerals of five of the eight victims of the Halloween massacre at nearby Greysteel in 1993 had there been anything quite like it in Co Derry. Twenty-three years ago the terrorist killings at the Rising Sun bar triggered fury at the perpetrators but yesterday there was no one to blame for Buncrana, adding to a feeling of numbed shock which united Derry like few tragedies of the past.

Indeed time has moved on so much in the city that Sean McGrotty's brother Jim was able to include a light-hearted throw-back to the dark days of the Troubles in his tribute to his sibling. At one point he said that Sean had taken over the management of his father's pigeon lofts, adding: "It was at this stage that I was called upon to negotiate a peace deal as Senator George Mitchell wasn't available."

The Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown praised the people of the city for the way they had responded to the McGrotty and Daniels families' plight.

"The community has tapped into a great wellspring of goodness that has helped to counteract the awful toxin of sudden death," he said.

He added that love and life were stronger than death and the bitterest tragedy.

He went on: "These have been sombre days, not only in this city but right across this island.

"The banks of daffodils seemed to wave naively in the face of the horror that happened in a few minutes on an apparently harmless pier at Buncrana. And the news of the awful events in Brussels underlined just how fragile life can be."

Part of the poem which Louise read to the mourners included the lines:

They went to watch the sunset together on Buncrana Pier

Unbeknown to them all an angel would be near.

Taken together as a family,

Joined as one at Heaven's door;

A community left in mourning,

Lives shattered evermore.

Their faces will forever map the sea

Remembered by each and everyone

Down by the Lake of Shadows

When you look beyond the sun.

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