Belfast Telegraph

Mourners reflect nation's mood

As a thousand footsteps halted behind him, John McAreavey tilted his head and kissed the coffin of his beautiful bride.

Finally he relinquished his grip and fell into the arms of his wife Michaela's heartbroken father Mickey Harte as they watched the remains of their special girl placed into the hearse and taken onward toward St Malachy's chapel.

Two weeks ago he was waiting for her inside the church as she made the same short journey from the Harte family home on the Glencull Road.

Now they went together. And behind them, not the chatter of excited wedding guests but the solemn hush made only by a sea of mourners.

At one point pupils from Glencull Primary School, where Mrs McAreavey went as a child, emerged from class to form their own miniature guard of honour.

The Gaelic Athletic Association may be the governing body of an amateur sport, but its part in organising the funeral was professional in every way - never more evident as the cortege made its way slowly along the A5 carriageway, one of Northern Ireland's main arterial routes closed to accommodate the event.

A marquee to hold 400 extra mourners, two huge TVs for the thousands more standing outside, and even a row of portable toilets - proof that everything had been thought of. Most were donated free of charge from within the GAA family.

Mrs McAreavey was a teacher aged just 27. This ensured a congregation distinct by its youth. Pupils from St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon where she taught stood in silence among the young couple's friends and relatives, the only sound the constant babble of a nearby stream.

John McAreavey's uncle, Bishop John McAreavey, who married them on December 30, acknowledged that the younger generation would struggle to comprehend how the murder of one so seemingly pure could be part of God's plan. "One of the hardest things in life is finding that there are things that we cannot understand, no matter how hard we try," he conceded.

As the distraught groom emerged from the church as his beloved was carried on to the adjoining cemetery, one of the first to embrace him was President Mary McAleese, proof that his wife's death has not just broken his heart, but that of a whole country.

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From Belfast Telegraph