Michaela Harte McAreavey funeral: Father, husband united in sorrow
The last time Mickey Harte and his daughter Michaela travelled the little winding road together from their home was on her wedding day.
Michaela, radiant in her bridal gown, her father, teary-eyed and sentimental, perhaps, as they drove through the snowy landscape arm-in-arm, while her groom, John McAreavey, stood waiting in joyous anticipation at the small country church.
Bishop John McAreavey performed the wedding ceremony of Michaela to his nephew in the same church just 19 days ago.
"At their wedding, everyone commented on the glow of happiness that radiated from Michaela and John. Finally they were united as husband and wife," he told mourners at the packed funeral yesterday.
"They lived for one another. They enjoyed and supported one another in everything. Their lives revolved around one another.
"Each talked endlessly about the other. Their hopes for the future was bound up with each other."
Less than three weeks later, Michaela's father and husband wrapped their arms around one another in sheer anguish, the depth of their grief beyond words, as they carried the oak coffin containing her remains yesterday from her home on Glencul Road in one final journey to St Malachy's church, as the black shadow of the hearse followed behind.
As the funeral cortege wound down the hill and came to a halt outside St Malachy's school, John bent down and gently kissed his young wife's coffin.
It was a small moment of unbearable sorrow as his lips caressed the smooth, cold surface of the wood amid the respectful silence of the guard of honour that lined the road.
It seemed unspeakably heartbreaking and yet entirely appropriate that Michaela was laid to rest in her white-satin wedding dress.
She was, after all, still a bride when her life was so brutally snuffed out just 11 short days after taking her vows.
And it was a photograph of a beautiful dewy-eyed Michaela, luminous on her wedding day that adorned the cover of the funeral missalette, while two family photographs taken that day were placed on the altar as symbols of her life.
Flanked by his father-in-law on one side and Michaela's brother, Matthew, on the other, John continued the long and painful walk to the church, as the coffin followed behind in the hearse, with Michaela's mother, Marian arriving in a car.
It was a beautiful day in the gentle Tyrone countryside Michaela had loved so well. The winter sunshine bathed the landscape in a golden glow and lent a gentle warmth to the wintery air.
In a voice filled with emotion, singer Mary Black sang a verse of 'No Frontiers', as mourners waited in the churchyard.
And as the cortege, so touching in its simple dignity, crawled up to the brow of the hill overlooking the church, the thousands of mourners who had congregated outside fell into complete silence, broken only by the uplifting pipe of a blackbird high up in the trees and the babble of a stream running alongside the old Harte family homestead.
Arms entwined, Mickey and John grabbed one another desperately, like drowning men, their grief and devastation all but impossible to watch.
Tears came to the eyes of several mourners at the sight of the two men Michaela had loved best.
The hearse was almost bowed down with the weight of roses of red, pink and white -- symbols of love and a sharp reminder of her time as the Ulster Rose in 2004.
Another guard of honour, this time composed of Michaela's own students from St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon stood in touching solemnity, shivering in their thin navy blazers.
By the time the mourners who had followed the cortege merged with those who had been waiting in the churchyard, there must have been up to 10,000 people who had congregated for the Requiem Mass.
One of the biggest funerals ever seen in Co Tyrone, the crowd whispered amongst themselves afterwards, proud of the turnout at this time of great sorrow for their home county.
The tiny church was overflowing, with barely enough room for family and close friends and big screens had been erected in the churchyard to broadcast the Mass to those outside.
No introduction was needed to the kind of person Michaela was, Bishop McAreavey, her husband's uncle, told the congregation.
Symbols chosen to highlight the beauty of her life included family photographs to reflect the source of her "solid values of truth, integrity and devotion", rosary beads reflecting her strong faith, the fainne to mark her keen interest in the Irish language and culture and a pioneer pin to reflect her committed teetotal status.
A rose was also chosen as a symbol of beauty and love, also recalling the fact that she had been Ulster Rose in the 2004 competition.
Most devastating of all, perhaps, given the circumstances that had led to her death, was the flowered mug and a packet of Rich Tea biscuits, carefully twisted shut with cling-film, that were also placed on the altar.
"Anyone who knows Michaela well doesn't need an explanation," said the bishop.
In another touching reminder of Michaela's all-too-recent wedding, the two readings -- the first read by Brian Dooher, Captain of the Tyrone Senior Football team and the second by Johnnie McDermot, Chairman of John McAreavey's home club, Tullylish Gaelic Football club in Co Down -- had both been read during her wedding ceremony and probably chosen by the bride herself.
They spoke a testimony to the power of love and of strong faith that were the twin themes of Michaela's own life.
The music throughout the funeral was simple and touching, with Mary Black giving a moving rendition of the couple's favourite song, 'Caledonia' after communion, bringing tears to the eyes of mourners again.
On the big screens, footage from inside the church showed John McAreavey and Michaela's family erect and upright in their dignity throughout the ceremony.
The ceremony drew to an end and the coffin, followed by the mourners left the church to make the short walk along the path to the old graveyard over the hill for the private burial.
As the congregation watched respectfully over the graveyard wall, it was difficult to imagine a more heart-rending sight as, shoulders bowed under the immense weight of their grief, Michaela's loved ones made a journey they never dreamed they would have to make with their bride.
You can leave of messages of condolence to the Harte and McAreavey families here