Belfast Telegraph

Harte tragedy: Michaela's school is gripped by sadness at loss of 'inspiration'

By Nicola Anderson

In her little blue Renault Clio car, all eyes would be on Michaela Harte as she drove out the school gates on her way home at the end of a day's teaching.

"'There goes Michaela', we used to say. She was just so beautiful. Inside and out. We are devastated," said one mother, wiping away a tear that rolled down her cheek.

An air of sadness and unreality enveloped St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, where the young newlywed had spent the past four years teaching Irish and religious education to pupils aged 11-18.

In the reception area of the pristine grammar school, a large screen bore a picture of a smiling Michaela in a polka dot blouse with, heartrendingly, the new married name she hardly had a chance to use depicted beneath -- "Michaela McAreavey, nee Harte" -- and a reminder to pupils to "please remember in your prayers".

The snap shot of the young teacher had been taken recently when she and the rest of the Irish language department had helped the school to scoop the prestigious Irish language competition, the Ashbourne Shield, recalled school principal Fintan Donnelly. In a statement, he described Michaela as a "highly valued member of the teaching staff".

"She was a consummate professional who was committed to her students and to the teaching of Irish and religious education. A vibrant and popular teacher and colleague, she was an inspiration and an example to her pupils and she will be greatly missed by both staff and students," he said.

A prayer service for Michaela was held yesterday morning in the school, while a separate service was held after school hours especially for the grief-stricken members of the teaching staff.

A book of condolence had been set up at the school, but Mr Donnelly stressed this was viewed as a "private" matter and not for public view.

The atmosphere in the school was one of utter sadness -- but with a determination to keep things as normal as possible for the young students, with members of the media politely urged to be off school grounds by the time the students were to leave, pale-faced despite their teenage hubbub.

Fellow Irish teacher Maire Mhic Giolla Chomhaill said they were "absolutely devastated" at Michaela's heartbreaking death.

"She was a lovely girl and the students had a high respect for her. She was very motherly with them and always talked to them at their level," she said.

Another statement on behalf of the Irish department described Michaela as someone who had a great love for the Irish language and culture which she also inspired in her pupils. They would all remember her "lovingly" in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, school chaplain Fr Peter McAnenly, who grew up beside Michaela and knew her since she was "no height", said she had been a "wonderful young girl, a lovely person".

She had been exemplary to her students and was highly respected in general.

"She was a fine young woman, full of life with a lovely sense of humour," he said.

An air of sadness had invaded the school and the town of Dungannon, he continued, describing her death as a "national and a global tragedy".

The events had been difficult to explain to teenagers, he admitted, saying there were no words to express what had happened.

To leave a message of condolence to the Harte family please click here

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