Belfast Telegraph

Heartache at funeral of schoolboy Niall O'Connor who died in Portaferry home

By Claire McNeilly

Mourners at the funeral of a "brilliant" 14-year-old schoolboy who died suddenly at his Portaferry home last Thursday were told to put their trust in God.

Niall O'Connor's heartbroken parents John and Caroline, and sister Ciara (9), were dignified in their grief yesterday as they said a final goodbye to their precious son and brother "who meant the world to them", and "who had the world at his feet".

Up to 1,000 people who turned out to pay their respects heard Father Patrick Mulholland describe Niall as a "talented, gifted young man" who "was very charming, with a great personality".

Both the church and the nearby parochial hall were full to capacity in what Fr Mulholland said was the biggest funeral that St Patrick's in Ballygalget has ever seen.

A pupil at Our Lady and St Patrick's Knock, Niall was found unresponsive at his home in Co Down on the evening of February 22.

Members of the nearby Ballygalget GAA club, which Niall had belonged to since he was five, rushed to the house with a defibrillator as the emergency services made their way to the scene.

The teenager was transferred to hospital by air ambulance, but desperate attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was pronounced dead a short time later.

During 11am Requiem Mass Fr Mulholland said that "nobody has any answers as to why these things happen", adding "we just have to put our trust in God, that God's looking after him".

"We are people of faith and our faith tells us that death is the beginning and entry into an everlasting happiness with God," he said.

"But we're not just creatures of mind and intellect, we're also people with hearts and emotions, people who feel love and fear, hope and sadness and despite our firm belief in the resurrection it's only natural to ask why?

"Why did God allow a young person like Niall to die so tragically? Why did He allow his family to suffer a deep sadness? Why was Niall not allotted the normal span of human life?

"I don't know, I honestly can't answer those questions. These are questions our very limited human minds were never made to answer ... We just can't answer those tortuous whys, we must leave that to Almighty God."

The congregation was told how Niall was "a very charming young man with a great personality" and they heard how he "had a nice confidence about himself that meant he was able to greet and talk to people and engage with them".

"He was very warm, and very interesting to talk to," the priest said. "He was a brilliant sportsman; he punched way above his weight and it made him a star player in all the teams he played for in school and from first year he was playing in the more senior teams.

"He had it academically, he had it socially, he had it in sports, in his personality ... he was a very good, decent young fellow."

Prior to the funeral, Niall's mum said that he "gave us 14 years of sheer happiness and joy, so many years of being an amazing son".

His devastated dad added that he "wasn't just a passionate sportsman - he was top of the class, a grade A student with the world at his feet".

Mr and Mrs O' Connor praised the emergency services, air ambulance and GAA club for doing everything they could to save their beloved son - who was "handsome, sporty and smart".

"The emergency services and local community were amazing, but ultimately there was nothing they could do," they said.

Following Requiem Mass, Niall was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery.

Belfast Telegraph

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