Poignant service remembers lives lost in Buncrana tragedy
More than 500 people packed into a church last night for the first anniversary Mass of those who lost their lives in the Buncrana Pier tragedy.
Despite driving sleet and snow, family members, friends, neighbours, school pals and work colleagues of those who perished packed Londonderry's Holy Family Church to capacity.
Broken-hearted mother Louise James and her brother Josh Daniels sat in silence in the front row of the Ballymagroarty church as the bells tolled at 7.12pm.
That was the exact moment the car carrying her partner Sean McGrotty (49), her two sons Mark (12) and Evan McGrotty (8), her mother Ruth Daniels (57) and her little sister Jodie-Lee Daniels slid into Lough Swilly and sank.
Baby Rioghnach, who was the only survivor of the tragedy after she was pulled from the water by Davitt Walsh who swam out to the sinking car and brought her to safety, was not at the service.
Father Noel Brown, who led the ceremony, said that baby Rioghnach was a "light in the darkness" saved by a hero.
Louise James did not speak throughout the moving service, during which many were brought to tears by the music sung by friends of the lost children. A choir made up of pupils from Jodie-Lee's school, St Mary's College, opened the service with a poignant rendition of I Watch the Sunrise (Close to You).
Pupils from Evan McGrotty's primary school, St Eithne's, sang Circle of Friends and members of the St Joseph's Boys School choir sang in honour of Mark McGrotty, who was a Year 8 pupil at the school.
Father Brown told the congregation that one year ago, "we were plunged into darkness".
It was, he said, "as if the electricity suddenly went out", but that by "loving Christ we could let that bright light shine again".
Bishop Donal McKeown was in attendance, as were the principals of the schools the three children had attended.
Members of the RNLI rescue crew also attended. Members of Derry City Football Club - of which Josh Daniels is a star player - packed the church.
Many of them were coming directly from bringing Ryan McBride's remains to his Brandywell home.
Mr McBride died suddenly on Sunday evening, and had been Josh's captain at the Brandywell.
Josh Daniels had earlier joined his teammates as they carried their skipper's coffin from Bradley and McLaughlin's Funeral Directors in the city centre through Derry's Bogside draped in his number five Derry City FC jersey.
Prayers were said for the repose of Mr McBride's soul during the ceremony and Evan McGrotty's young classmates prayed that baby Rioghnach would continue to be blessed throughout her life.
Before the final blessing, the congregation were reminded of a memorial walk to be held on Friday, March 24, for the McGrotty and Daniels family members who perished in Lough Swilly last year.
Family and friends hugged and cried as the ceremony, marking a most painful anniversary, drew to a close.