Berkeley balcony tragedy: Church vigil for four victims before final return to Ireland
Saint Columba's church in Oakland, California, yesterday became the focal point for the outpouring of grief among the families, students and the wider community which mourned the deaths of the young Irish people killed in Tuesday's balcony collapse.
A cortege with four coffins bearing the remains of four of the six victims - Lorcán Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, and Eimear Walsh - arrived at Saint Columba's Church at 3.30 pm yesterday.
Their families spent time with them in private inside the church before a huge contingent of J1 students filed in to pay their respects.
The vigil by family members and students was set to take place before the bodies were to go back to the funeral home to prepare for a flight home to Dublin from San Francisco International airport tonight.
A joint funeral will take place in a town north of San Francisco for American native Ashley Donohue and her Irish cousin Olivia Burke early today.
Afterwards, Olivia’s remains will also be flown home this evening alongside her four friends.
t a memorial service in UCD, where three of the victims studied, college President Andrew Deeks recalled how the news had broken on Bloomsday.
He concluded the service by quoting from Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’. “They lived and laughed and loved and left,” he said. “We will not forget them.”
An estimated 400 people took the opportunity to pay their respects throughout the evening before the vigil ended around 9.45 pm.
Originally it had been set for an all-night vigil, but on reflection, the families decided they needed to gather their energy for the trip home this evening and for the harrowing days to come when the funerals take place in Dublin.
The vigil was attended by Irish and Berkeley dignitaries, by students, friends and relatives of the deceased and local St Columba's parishoner.
Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan, Irish Ambassador the United States Anne Anderson, Mayor of Berkeley Tom Bates, his wife State Senator Lonnie Hancock, Police Chief Michael Meehan, and Fire Chief Gil Dong offered condolences and continuing support to the bereaved families.
Members of the police and fire department who attended the horrific accident on Tuesday night also came to pay their respects.
Fr Aidan McAleenan, pastor of St Columba's, told the Irish Independent: "I spent yesterday morning looking for a funeral home that could take four separate caskets, then it came to me - St Columba is an Irish saint, I guess we could take care of our own.
"The families decided what they wanted and we said, 'We'll do whatever you want.' They wanted it to be like home."
A shuttle bus was organised at the police headquarters in Berkeley to bring people out and back to St Columba's.
Early today a joint funeral will take place in a town north of San Francisco for American native Ashley Donohue and her Irish cousin Olivia Burke.
Afterwards Olivia's remains will be brought to the airport and flown home alongside her friends.
It comes as fresh details emerged about the balcony collapse. Fr McAleenan confirmed that it is now thought that a number of students were not actually standing on the balcony when it collapsed but fell while rushing outside to try and save their friends.
Aoife Beary and Hannah Waters were still fighting for the lives in hospital last night.
Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan visited some of the injured yesterday, including Conor Flynn and Jack Halpin, who he predicted would make good recoveries.
At the John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek he said: "Both of them were very fortunate to get the medical treatment that they got here".
"I was very encouraged with the spirit that I saw there. Conor was very positive, and it helped no doubt that four of his friends were with him, one of them coming from Chicago, the other from San Diego, so that is an expression really of the support that these young people have for each other, but also his determination to make a full recovery," the minister said.
"Also, he is just concerned for the people that are injured and he's hoped that they will all make a full recovery as well.
"That came across very strong and was very much in evidence, and of course, his sorrow for his lost friends as well.
"I have rarely seen such an outpouring of sympathy and grief for those people who died in this tragic accident which was very freakish as we know, and also for their families and their friends.
"So there is huge universal support in Ireland, but also amongst the Irish diaspora all over the world."
Fr McAleenan also confirmed Clodagh Cogley is "doing her best".
"There was a whole gang of J1 students all there in the room with her, we blessed her, prayed with her and sang with her," he said.
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