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Editor's Viewpoint: Grief for Michaela bridges tribal divisions

Published 22/01/2011

The funeral of Michaela McAreavey this week was immensely moving, when thousands of people from all walks of life paid their respects.

Those attending the funeral and the preceding wake, including political and community leaders as well as hundreds of friends of both families, underlined the widespread sympathy at the violent death of a young bride on her honeymoon so far away.

What has been perhaps less well-known, until today's report in this newspaper, is the fact that a leading loyalist from Belfast also went to the family home to pay his respects and those of his colleagues.

Winston Rea, better known as 'Winkie', joined many others waiting patiently at the wake, and he eventually met leading family members to whom he offered his condolences and those of his colleagues from the Shankill branch of the Northern Ireland Football Supporters' Club.

This sincere expression of sympathy was immensely important in a Northern Ireland which has known such division based on religious and community divisions.

Few people will fail to note the symbolism of a loyalist leader entering into the heartland of the GAA and conveying his sympathy as a recognition of a shared humanity.

His visit was uplifting because it showed that even amid the tragedy of a young and untimely death, there is also a glimmer of hope that people can indeed cross the divides, and that perhaps the worst of our community divisions are now being left in the past.

It would be wrong, perhaps, to take too much out of one good example such as that of Winston Rea, and equally it would be unfair to place too much of the burden of symbolism on a man who felt personally, and on behalf of his colleagues, that he was simply doing the right thing.

However, there have been examples during the Troubles, of how human decency can overcome many traditional community divisions.

There is still a long way to go, but the action of Mr Rea, and the support of his colleagues, gives us all reason to hope for even better days ahead.

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