Belfast Telegraph

Get help if you are struggling, priest pleads at funeral of model Mairead O'Neill

By Brett Campbell

Mourners at the funeral of model Mairead O’Neill have heard how she had struggled to get her life back on track after the death of her mother last year.

Hundreds of people, including many of the 21-year-old’s friends from within the world of fashion, packed into St Malachy’s Church in Belfast to say their final farewells yesterday afternoon.

Father Michael McGinnity said her sudden death on Monday night had left her entire family “numb with grief” as they struggled to comprehend yet another tragedy.

“Missing her mother became the heartache that wouldn’t go away,” he said. 

Just 10 months ago the young CMPR model’s mother Karen Pelan succumbed to bowel cancer after a long battle with the disease. 

“When she died just before Christmas, it was a terrible blow to her children, who each set out on their own journey of grief,” Fr McGinnity said. “A journey that nothing ever prepares you for in this life.”

The clergyman paid tribute to the former St Malachy’s Primary School and Hazelwood Integrated College pupil, as he sought to comfort her heartbroken sister and brother, Bronagh and Brendan.

“There was nothing she wanted more than to be creative, artistic and to celebrate the gift of life,” he told them.

“The very last thing she would have ever wanted was to cause the pain and hurt that many of you are now having to feel.”

Fr McGinnity said it was obvious Mairead “wasn’t coping well at all” as she “struggled to keep her life and work on track” over the past year, despite being surrounded by people “who would have done anything” for her.

“But nothing anyone said could make up for the loss — the inner emptiness just kept eating away at her,” he said.

In an effort to console Mairead’s loved ones, including her boyfriend Keaton and young nephews and nieces, the parish priest told them that they became “God’s messengers of hope” in trying to help ease Mairead’s agony.

“Each of you reached out in your own way to try and love her back to life,” he said.

“Today you might be thinking that whatever you did, didn’t matter much in the end, that it wasn’t enough.

“Can I just say to you today that every act of kindness did matter and still matters — each of you have been a great star shining your light, compassion and mercy into Mairead’s pain.

“That is written on God’s heart for eternity.”

Fr McGinnity described how the loss of the young model, who regularly participated in Belfast Fashionweek events and also worked as a make-up artist, has touched people across the country and shattered the hearts of everyone in the Markets area where she lived.

He said the sheer volume of tributes which have poured in from former fashion industry colleagues and the many people who encountered Mairead at various charity events was testimony to how much she will be missed.

“Many who knew her well will find it hard to take in that someone who was so full of life is now gone,” he added.

Fr McGinnity appealed directly to those who may be “struggling in the journey of  life” to reach out for help and urged everyone attending the service to speak to a representative of the counselling service Lifeline who was available in the church foyer. He concluded by extending his “deepest sympathy” to all those left hurting in the wake of Mairead’s death and vowed to pray for them in the difficult months that lie ahead. He also expressed his hope that Mairead has finally found rest in everlasting peace. Following the service, the congregation gathered outside the city centre church where loved ones released 21 white balloons into the air — each one representing a single year of the young woman’s life.

Friends and family wept as a local band performed a moving rendition of their song ‘Believe In Love’ as requested by Bronagh. It was an emotional tribute to her sister who features in the music video for the Echo Raptors track which was filmed just a few years ago.

Then, as the solemn sound of church bells rang out, Mairead’s coffin was placed onto a horse-drawn carriage which was waiting to take her on her final journey to Roselawn Crematorium.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can call Lifeline free on 0808 808 8000 or visit their website for more information.

Belfast Telegraph

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