Emotional scenes at funeral of battling 'little hero' Charlie (9)
The heartbroken mother of a nine-year-old "hero" who tragically lost his battle with leukaemia held on tightly to his coffin during a last tearful embrace at his funeral service.
Charlie Craig, from Lisburn, who fought the cruel disease courageously for seven years and pioneered a school scheme for children with cancer, died at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children on August 2.
There were emotional scenes at Requiem Mass yesterday when his mother Cliodhna, dressed in a white lace dress, left her pew as the service was coming to a close and approached her son's coffin in front of the altar steps.
Overcome with profound grief, she partially covered the white coffin with her head and body, shedding quiet tears of sorrow as the deeply moving lyrics of the hymn Angel were sung by a vocalist in St Patrick's Church.
She was guided back to her seat at the front of the church by her husband Fintan after a short time, before she then joined the other pallbearers and helped carry her son from the church after the Mass had ended.
Mourners had previously been told by Fr Dermot McCaughan, who officiated at the 11am service in the family's native Lisburn, how Charlie had shown astonishing insight and wisdom in the weeks before his death.
"He said: 'Mum you have to lie in the dark before you see the stars'," Fr McCaughan said.
"These words help in some small way to lighten the burden.
"They bring us immense hope and comfort and light in the midst of our darkness and in the midst of our grief today.
"We must believe, and we do believe, that Charlie in his tender years was very acutely aware that this earthly struggle was coming to an end and the bright lights of a new world were beckoning to him."
The priest told the congregation during his homily that Charlie was a modern day "hero".
"We must salute him for his courage, for his resignation and his inspiration," he said.
"From one so young, the young hero that he was, we thank him today for his beautiful and unique presence always in our midst."
Shortly before the service began Charlie's grandfather Des Eastwood was invited to address hundreds of mourners who'd packed into the Co Down church to say a final farewell to this "special little boy".
"Charlie was a highly intelligent, strong-willed, kind, creative, good-humoured, determined little boy - a force of nature," he said.
"He put all his trust in God, telling his mum Cliodhna on many occasions about conversations he had with God.
"Charlie suffered a lot with leukaemia and the ravaging after-effects of surgeries and procedures and he navigated endless medications alongside modern day miracles."
His grandad's voice wavered as he added: "In the words of his favourite song: 'There's a fire burning in my bones'."
Mr Eastwood also told how his grandson spent "many months in hospitals both in Belfast and Bristol, at times enduring horrendous pain and discomfort".
But he added that Charlie "was not one to complain and found great distraction and great satisfaction in progress and in purpose" which, he said, included writing and publishing "their now famous joke book" with his sister Nancy.
During his 10-minute speech from the altar Mr Eastwood reminded those present at the funeral Mass that "God had a plan for Charlie" who "in his short life, had achieved so, so much".
"To date many charities have benefited from fundraisers in his name, many prayers have echoed across the globe and so many more lives have been touched by Charlie Craig," he said.
"His legacy will live long. His work and suffering in this life are over but I promise you, you have not heard the last of Charlie Craig."
Mr Eastwood added: "There is no doubt in my mind that Charlie is in Heaven enjoying all the things that were denied to him in this life."
He also recalled how his grandson "touched the hearts of so many people" and how "his kindness knew no boundaries", adding: "Unprompted, he even gave his First Holy Communion money to the starving children in Africa."
To rapturous applause he ended his moving tribute with the words: "Rest in peace Charlie Craig, my grandson and our man in Heaven."
Charlie was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was just two years old and he underwent two bone marrow transplants.
The schoolboy was, however, admitted to hospital in mid-July in a critical condition after he developed graft verus host disease (GvHD), a chronic complication associated with transplants.
During his sermon the priest mentioned that five months ago the St Joseph's P5 pupil piloted a scheme to help children with cancer take part in lessons and interact with classmates.
The initiative by The Children's Cancer Unit Charity was a first for Northern Ireland.
Charlie was able to use his iPad to control a robot at his desk so he could take part in lessons using a live video-link.
He was buried in Blaris Cemetery. Charlie is survived by mum Cliodhna, dad Fintan, sister Nancy and family circle.