Belfast Telegraph

Unfathomable grief of Ellen Finnegan's dad as he bids final farewell to beloved daughter who died in Castlewellan house fire

Priest urges mourners to pray for stricken dad as tragic teen laid to rest

By Allan Preston

A grieving father led hundreds of mourners in an emotional farewell to his daughter who died in a fire on Saturday.

Bartley Finnegan lost his only daughter Ellen (18) in the blaze in Castlewellan, Co Down, in the early hours of Saturday morning on what was also the third anniversary of his wife Nicola's death from bowel cancer.

The funeral service was held in St Malachy's Church, just across the street from his flat above his butcher shop in Lower Square. Ellen was in an upstairs bedroom when the fire broke out at around 4am on Saturday.

Outside the shop many people had left flowers with tributes.

Family, school friends and neighbours wept and comforted each other as the teenager's coffin was carried in to the church.

The choir of Assumption Grammar School, where Ellen was an upper sixth student, sang for their friend.

Fr Sean Cahill led the service and said "our memories of Ellen will always be of one young and vibrant woman".

He recounted how the last words Ellen had spoken to her father had meant so much.

Speaking in front of the congregation, he said: "I believe it was very special for you, Bartley, to be able to cherish that message, she wished you a good holiday on your planned trip: 'I love you, daddy... daddy, I love you'."

Father Cahill described Ellen's love of sport and said she also had a love for music and had enjoyed singing in a folk choir and playing the drums.

He added: "She was too young, not yet 19 years old. Ellen hadn't had time to find her way in life, even if university places were opening up for her. She had no time to plan the bright career she might have embarked on.

"Given Ellen's talents and personality, she could have had a career in public relations, social services, communications, management. All careers opening up that were closed so dramatically."

Friends of Ellen also laid tributes in front of the packed church, with many struggling to hold back tears as they read them. One read: "To you, Ellen's friends, she simply loved you all. We know she would want you here in your rightful place today.

"Ellen, you lit up our lives with your grin and your passion for life, your larger than life personality and your affinity to us all. You truly were your mother's daughter. We ask everyone to pray for Bartley and continue to pray for him in the difficult times ahead. We ask everyone to pray for Ellen's family, both living and dead, especially her mum. You were only here for a short time but you left a lasting impression."

Another tribute prayed for the emergency services who had fought to save Ellen's life on Saturday, saying: "Their job has been a difficult one but done with compassion and professionalism".

After Ellen's coffin was carried out of the church, a procession of hundreds followed up the hill for the burial. Three young friends of Ellen who had been in the procession spoke to the Belfast Telegraph after the service.

One praised the "massive support from everybody". "Most of us couldn't even fit in the church," he said. "Everybody loved her. She was bubbly, never ever in a bad mood."

A second added: "You saw how many were walking up the street there. Everyone's just a bit stuck for words at the minute."

And a third friend insisted: "Just seeing her on a night out you just knew you were going to have a good night. Just seeing her really did bring a smile to people's faces. It really did bring out the best in people and I've noticed this has brought out the best in people today too."

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