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Michael McGibbon: Widow's moving whisper of comfort to children as they lay murdered dad to rest

Hundreds turn out for funeral of man shot by paramilitaries

By Claire McNeilly

"Daddy will give us strength, no matter where".

Those were the poignant words that heartbroken widow Joanne McGibbon whispered to her young children as they stood outside Holy Cross Church behind Michael's coffin, waiting for it to be carried into the hearse.

The dignified mother-of-four gripped her daughters Seanna (17), six-year-old Michaela and Corry-Leigh (4), and nine-year-old son Shea, pulling them tightly to her, as mourners and well-wishers offered their condolences following Requiem Mass yesterday.

Earlier, a congregation of around 800 people heard Father Eugene McCarthy say that the 33-year-old taxi driver - whom he described as "a good family man" - did not deserve to die they way he did.

Mr McGibbon passed away in hospital on April 16, surrounded by his family, following a so-called paramilitary punishment shooting just yards away from his Crumlin Road home, which sits directly opposite the Ardoyne church.

The former chef was shot three times in the legs by dissident republicans at Butler Place last Friday night - 24 hours after two men visited his house in north Belfast to threaten him.

Joanne, a nurse, cradled her dying husband in her arms as he bled to death in that alleyway following the attack which would ultimately rob their children of a father.

Fr McCarthy told mourners at the funeral that Mr McGibbon's death was "another block on the road to lasting peace and reconciliation" and he said he hoped that "people will stand together in solidarity".

"We are very aware that Michael's young life ended abruptly as a result of a so-called punishment shooting in an alleyway near his home in the shadow of this historic church," he said.

Ahead of the service, Joanne, who carried their youngest daughter Corry-Leigh in her arms, walked alongside her other three children as they followed the hearse some 500 yards from the front door of their home to the main entrance of the church.

Dressed entirely in black, she kissed their eldest daughter Seana briefly on the lips while gathering the children around their father's coffin, before then kneeling in front of it, to say a final farewell prior to 10am Mass.

Inside the chapel, Fr McCarthy, who led the ceremony - aided by Fr Gary Donegan, Fr Ochran Eastwood and Fr Gareth Thomas - praised the dignity with which the family had borne their loss.

"I want to assure them that the vast majority of people here in Ardoyne and beyond this parish are with them, standing strong with them against those who live in the shadows and emerge from the shadows to perpetrate foul deeds which deprived a wife of her husband, children of their daddy, a father of his son and siblings of a brother," he said.

The priest said Mr McGibbon had experienced problems in life.

"Michael, by his own admission, wasn't perfect, he had struggles in life," he said. "But let's put it very clearly - he didn't deserve to die in the manner that all of that happened to him."

He said: "No human being has the right to act as judge, jury and executioner and thus deprive another human being of his God-given life."

Fr McCarthy said the scourge of paramilitary attacks had to end and those responsible for the "violence and mayhem" must see the error of their ways.

"The death of Michael McGibbon marks another block on the road to lasting peace and reconciliation," he said. "Thank God for the peace we have, but remember it's very fragile and needs to be nurtured."

As the service drew to a close Fr McCarthy said: "It's a difficult day for everyone but hopefully we can stand together and see a new dawn beginning in Holy Cross parish."

Clutching their father's coffin, Michael's children and his widow helped guide it from the church where a guard of honour, comprising girls from his eldest daughter's school, St Dominic's Grammar, was waiting by the side door.

Outgoing Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin and her Sinn Fein colleague Gerry Kelly, the north Belfast MLA, were at Holy Cross Church ahead of yesterday's funeral Mass, while the veteran SDLP politician Alban Maginness also attended the service.

After the funeral Mr McGibbon was laid to rest in Carnmoney cemetery.

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