No one deserves a happier life than John McAreavey
Every congratulation to John McAreavey and Tara Brennan on their engagement. I'm sure we all wish the couple all the best in their lives together. But it is joyful news that brings with it echoes of sadness as we remember Michaela McAreavey, who was brutally murdered on her honeymoon with John in Mauritius in 2011.
We all remember how the life of that vibrant, beautiful school teacher was brutally cut short. We also remember the injustice - no killers caught and disgusting attempts to smear both John and Michaela. What I suppose would be easy to say here is that we have to "move on", that "life goes on". Yet Mr McAreavey - sensibly - hasn't tried to reach for those cliches, and nor should we because life - and its negotiations - are much more complicated and nuanced that those phrases ever allow for.
His pain, we can be certain, is all too real and forever. Speaking last year about finding love again with accountant Tara, the GAA star also talked movingly about his late wife. "Michaela will always be a part of my life," he explained. For him, his relationship with Michaela remains alive. She is not, he insisted "completely lost... what helps me be optimistic is that I know where Michaela is, and I know she's very happy where she is. She's in a different place now".
John McAreavey has handled his terrible loss with a dignity and positivity that would have made Michaela know she had chosen the right man with whom to share her life. Instead of succumbing to despair he has taken the hard road, the brave road, of refusing to believe that evil must triumph.
Not only did he help to establish the Michaela Foundation to commemorate and celebrate the values of his first wife, he has also spoken publicly about his battle not to give in when life is at its darkest. Reflecting on when his burden was almost too much to bear, he said: "When I had those temptations to want to almost wallow in self-pity, to be left with the temptation there is no hope left, there was always something there that came to me to sustain me in those dark times and, I suppose, sustain my determination that I would get through this suffering."
That is the voice of a truly courageous and straightforward young man. While he speaks of the strength he has drawn from God, there are also other reasons behind his resilience. For example, there are those qualities he shared with Michaela: being grounded in a community, a belief that life was to be lived, a conviction in the simple pleasures - family, fun, the sharing of values and, yes, cultural identity (he and Michaela shared a deep love of the Irish language).
John McAreavey could so easily be any young man in our community: hard-working, modest, but certain of who he is and what he represents. However, he is more than that now. The Lawrencetown man has been to a heart of darkness that few of us can even begin to comprehend, or imagine. He has been into the abyss and has come back. When heartache must have threatened to overwhelm him he turned and journeyed towards the light. Call it life, call it faith, call it what you will. And that is not the story of an average man. That is the story of a remarkable man.
When news broke that John was going out with Tara last year, Michaela's father, GAA legend Mickey Harte, highlighted the essential quality of his son-in-law: "John's a very sound man, he has a great take on life and he carries himself with dignity. We're happy for him he's been able to move on with his life in view of what he had to endure when he was out there in Mauritius. It's just amazing he's such a good, strong young man and a solid citizen and carrying on his life to the best he can, and we're very supportive of him doing that."
It is a typically unfussy northern way of speaking. No gushing, no rhetorical flashes. But behind the matter-of-factness there is an acknowledgement of John's considerable qualities. And, it must be said, those few sentences say a great deal about Mr Harte, too. Of course, there must be a storm in his heart - his love and goodwill towards his son-in-law, his paternal understanding of the need for John to live his life must be mixed with an overwhelming sorrow for what was lost for Michaela.
And no doubt, amid all of that, he will be mindful, too, of the situation another young woman, Tara, finds herself in. She has helped John to heal. And she must have great maturity and grace to cope with the difficult situation she finds herself in. Given the many qualities of Michaela, it would be understandable if she occasionally felt insecure. But instead she is an earnest supporter of the Michaela Foundation, finding a way to nurture an equilibrium between the past, present and future.
John McAreavey, more than most, deserves every chance of happiness, of leading a normal life. He deserves a chance to be just like the rest of us. Let us wish the happy couple and their extended families all the very best.