Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Michaela's legacy reaches across the sporting divide

Michaela McAreavey's coffin is carried from her parents' home in Ballygawley
Michaela McAreavey's coffin is carried from her parents' home in Ballygawley
John McAreavey places the coffin of his wife Michaela McAreavey, 27, daughter of Tyrone Gaelic football boss Mickey Harte in the back of the hearse.
Michaela McAreavey's father Mickey Harte (left) and widower John McAreavey (right) follow her coffin as it is carried to St Malachy's church
John and Michaela McAreavey at the Giant's Causeway in North Antrim
Michaela and John McAreavey outside Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France
Michaela McAreavey's coffin is carried from her parents' home in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone
John and Michaela McAreavey on their honeymoon
Tyrone Manager Mickey Harte at his daughter Michaela's wedding to John McAreavey
John and Michaela McAreavey, pictured here on a visit to the Giant's Causeway. The couple were on honeymoon in Mauritius when Michaela was murdered.
The remains of murdered honeymooner Michaela McAreavey return home last night from Mauritius.
The remains of murdered honeymooner Michaela McAreavey return home last night from Mauritius.
Former Tyrone Captain Peter Canavan (3rd left) joins members of the Errigal Ciaran GAA Club line the route as a hearse transporting the body of murdered Mauritius honeymooner Michaela McAreavey approaches in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone.
The body of Michaela McAreavey left George Best Belfast City airport in a hearse on Friday afternoon.
Michaela McAreavey's husband John, (foreground), waits for the hearse to leave Belfast city airport under police escort on the last leg of ehe journey home
Michaela's remains leave Victoria Hospital in Muiritius yesterday en route to the airport. 13th January 2011.
John McAreavey, husband of Michaela Harte leaving the mortuary at Victoria Hospital in Mauritius yesterday wearing her wedding ring and engagement ring around his neck
John McAreavey, husband of Michaela Harte leaving the mortuary at Victoria Hospital in Mauritius yesterday wearing her wedding ring and engagement ring around his neck
A hearse with the body of Michaela McAreavey, leaves George Best Belfast city airport. Friday January 14, 2011.
Michaela McAreavey on her wedding day
John McAreavey and wife Michaela Harte are seen on their wedding day
Michaela Harte Far Right front in St.Malachy's Primary School where she attended and later done her teaching placement..
Raj Theekoy
Suspect Avinash Treebhoowoon (29) is brought to Mapou Court, Port Louis Mauritius, Wednesday, Jan.12, 2011. The room attendant has been charged with the murder of Michaela McAreavey.
Suspect Sandip Moneea (41) covers his face as he is escorted to Mapou Court, Port Louis Mauritius, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. The floor supervisor has been charged with the murder of Michaela McAreavey.
Raj Theekoy (33), faces a conspiracy charge in connection with the murder of Michaela McAreavey.
A distraught Mickey Harte with son Michael.
Michaela Harte (left) in St.Malachy's Primary School where she attended as a pupil and later completed her teaching placement.
Michaela Harte in with Throphy in St.Malachy's Primary School where Michaela attended and later done her teaching placement
Micheala Harte in fancy dress in St.Malachy's Primary School where she attended as a pupil and later completed her teaching placement..
A distraught Mickey Harte with sons Matthew (left) and Michael at their family home near Ballygawley
Michaela Harte after she had received a B.Ed at Queens University Belfast. (Picture taken in June 2006)
Balloons with the couple's names giving directions to St Malachy's Church outside Ballygwley where they recently got married
A distraught Mickey Harte at his family home near Ballygawley
Wedding flowers from the couple's recent marriage at St Malachy's Church outside Ballygawley
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 11/1/2011Mandatory Credit - Picture by Justin KernoghanA distraught Mickey Harte with sons Matthew (left) and Michael at their family home near Ballygawley today.Michaela, the daughter of Tyrone gaelic football manager Mickey Harte was strangled, Mauritius police have said.Michaela McAreavey, 27, was found dead at the Legends hotel in Mauritius where she was staying while on honeymoon.The 27-year-old Irish woman had married John McAreavey, a member of Down's gaelic football team, on 30 December. He is not a suspect.Police in Mauritius intend to question six people about the killing later on Tuesday.
A wedding sign and balloons telling wedding guests directions to the church near the family home in Ballygawley
Mickey Harte (centre), is comforted at the family home outside Ballygawley in Co Tyrone
(From the left) Mickey Harte, John McAreavey, Michaela Harte, Bishop John McAreavey and Brendan McAreavey are seen on the wedding day of Michaela Harte and John McAreavey
Donegal Celtic and Cliftonville observe a minutes silence in respect of Michaela Harte at the game in west Belfast
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and his daughter Michaella
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte and his daughter Michaela after the All Ireland Football Final 28/9/2003
Michaela Harte, daughter of Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte. Pic by Ian Magill. 23/3/10.Real Woman feature by Stephanie Bell.
Michaela Harte
Irish News handout of (left to right) Mickey Harte, John McAreavey, Michaela Harte, Bishop John McAreavey and Brendan McAreavey on the wedding day of Michaela Harte and John McAreavey at St. Malacheys Church Ballymacilrory on December 30, 2010. Michaela, the daughter of Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte was murdered in her hotel room, police in Mauritius confirmed today.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte with his son David and daughter Michaela after his side's win at Croke Park
Tyrone GAA boss Mickey Harte graduates at Queens University pictured with his daughter Machela who also graduatedand became a Bachelor in Education
Michaela Harte appearing on the television programme the Late Late Show.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte celebrates with his daughter Michaela and his son Matthew
John McAreavey and wife Michaela Harte are seen on their wedding day at St. Malacheys Church Ballymacilrory on December 30, 2010.
Mickey Harte, pictured in 2006 with his daughter Michaela

The Belfast Telegraph sports awards ceremony last Monday evening was, as ever, a unique gathering.

Across the banqueting room there were many famous sporting sons and daughters of Ulster, diverse in their upbringing and background, all sharing the distinction of having experienced achievement for themselves and for the land of their birth.

Young up and coming soccer, rugby and gaelic players rubbed shoulders with legendary figures from earlier times.

There was a bespectacled Barry McQuigan, whom I recall interviewing 25 years ago and whose late parents once showed me around the humble white-washed outhouse in the border town of Clones where he trained in troubled times. There was Dr Jack Kyle, 85 years old, an iconic figure surrounded by today's young generation of Ulster rugby players. There was Pat Jennings, another impeccable sporting ambassador for Northern Ireland.

There also were the administrators, the unsung backroom people and the families and friends of new sporting heroes who had achieved national and international recognition.

At my table sat members of Tony McCoy's family from Moneyglass, his proud mother and four sisters. Close by were the equally proud parents of Graeme McDowell from north Antrim. A sense of united community pride was palpable as McCoy and McDowell and the other winners were warmly applauded.

Sadly the news of Michaela McAreavey's murder cast a shadow over the ceremony. Many in the audience would have recalled, as I did, her father Mickey Harte, when he was saluted at an earlier awards dinner for his remarkable achievements in gaelic games. As we have learnt in the past week, Michaela played a significant supporting role. The GAA was a major part of her life and that of her grieving husband John.

As a boy growing up in Co Tyrone, the local GAA ground in my home town of Dungannon may as well have been on another planet.

I came from the other side of the track and by accident of birth kicked with a different foot. One Sunday afternoon curiosity got the better of a school friend and me. Instead of aimlessly wandering around our home town, we decided to go in the direction of O'Neill Park, where Tyrone were playing and to where the entire nationalist and Catholic population of the county seemed to be travelling to watch a gaelic match against Down.

We were just in time for the pre-match parade but we were edgy and uncomfortable, wondering if someone would recognise us as belonging to another world.

It is but one small indicator of the gulf between our communities that, long before the final whistle blew, we had sneaked nervously out of the ground. Whatever sense of adventure we had felt in going to the gaelic match soon deserted us. We were so worried someone would find out that we made a boyhood pact never to reveal where our Sunday walk had taken us.

Many years later, at the Belfast Telegraph annual awards, I found myself proudly shaking the hand of Mickey Harte surrounded by his victorious Tyrone team. As we conversed, my mind flashed back to that boyhood afternoon.

Thankfully, times have changed for the better. We have moved on immeasurably from those days as evident again last week when the Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Norman Hamilton had a cordial meeting with the GAA hierarchy for the first time and joined with them in prayer on hearing the news of Michaela McAreavey's death.

The outpouring of grief across this community is reminiscent of the atmosphere of sadness and sympathy when Gordon Wilson lost his daughter Marie in the Enniskillen bombing.

As with Marie Wilson, the murder of Michaela has put life and death in brutal perspective for families everywhere. Only those who have had personal experience of losing a loved one can truly fathom the sense of heartbreak.

The terrible tragedy which unfolded in a faraway honeymoon hotel has united the thoughts of people from very different backgrounds across this province.

Sport has its divisions, rivalry and competitiveness but it also has a unique emotional capacity to unite us particularly in grief and in tragedy. We have seen this demonstrated movingly in the passing of George Best, Joey Dunlop and Alex Higgins and most recently in the silent tribute by Rangers and Celtic fans, players and officials marking the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox disaster.

In life Michaela McAreavey was an exemplary young woman who was a credit to her upbringing and to the community in Tyrone in which she played such an impressive role. In death, she has brought many people in this society together to grieve with her family. That, in itself, is a legacy to be cherished, no matter from what side of the track we have come.

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