Belfast Telegraph

Homily at funeral of INLA child killer Martin McElkerney [full text]

Martin McElkerney
Martin McElkerney

Below is the full homily at the funeral of INLA child killer Martin McElkerney at St Peter's Cathedral west Belfast on May 23 2019.

Triple killer McElkerney was jailed in 1987 for his part in a 1982 booby-trap bomb which killed two schoolboys, Kevin Valliday (11) and his friend Stephen Bennet (14), as well as 20-year-old Lance Bombardier Kevin Waller.

McElkerney died last week after he was found with a gunshot wound at the republican plot in Milltown Cemetery.

The homily was delivered by Fr Gary Donegan:

There are tragedies in life that we can do nothing about. Martin’s death is such a tragedy.

Martin’s family - Ann and their children; his mother Eileen and his sisters and brothers are in confusion; bewilderment and grief.  But we try to believe that God’s love never ceases, and therefore we can hope.

Martin’s mother, Eileen, whom I have known independently, is a woman of such faith that in the wake house, she chose Psalm 94, for which the response is:

O that today you would listen to his voice,

Harden not your hearts.

We are meant to bury our parents. In cases like Martin, the natural order is turned on its head, but the voice of God speaks directly to Eileen in faith. As the song says: A mother’s love is a blessing. This is personified by Eileen in her love for her 13 children. To witness the love of Eileen for her son Martin, and then to realise that God’s love is so much greater, how can we not be in awe of God’s mercy in this sacred place that is St Peter’s.

When death is sudden, tragic or unexpected, those who are grieving have not just lost a loved one, but in fact feel quite lost themselves. Bereavement never leaves us where it finds us.

Ann and Martin’s family in truth are bewildered and distraught, yet you couldn’t be more edified to see Martin’s mother, Eileen in the midst of them as a leader of faith.

While everybody rallies round to care for her physical needs, and despite her being broken hearted, it is the strength of her faith and her hope that is infectious.

As a faith community in this hallowed space that is our Cathedral, we pray that time and love; the support of their friends and family, combined with a loving heavenly Father, who never ceases to love, will grace this family with inner peace.

God is never nearer than when we are drained of all feeling, and incapable of seeing clearly a sense that we have nothing else left to offer but our emptiness and our desolation. That’s when his Spirit approaches us most nearly.

The gospel today reflects the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. They had gone from being elated by Jesus’ presence and leadership, to wandering along this road with a sense of hopelessness and desolation, that only grieve can bestow.

This story is very real for Martin’s family today. Emptiness and grieve seem to have taken over their lives. But the eyes of the disciples are opened at the breaking of the bread, and they recognise Jesus travelling with them.  Our eyes, like those of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, need to be opened to be reassured that God’s love is open to all of us.

As a faith community, that is where we are at our best, with our reassurances. Best of all manifested by our physical presence, but sometimes we get it wrong. An example being speaking, when we need to listen, (as a student I had a placement in St Luke’s Hospital in Dublin. There I met a wonderful priest, Fr Jack O’Brien. He instructed me that when in the presence of someone terminally ill, or later on, the grieving family, the most important thing was your physical presence and to listen. He gave me an example of what not to do.

There was once a priest who did everything by the book. Sitting by the bedside of a sick woman at eye level, he tried to comfort the lady. But his inability to converse resulted in the small talk drying up very quickly. Struggling, he looked at her and said:

“Would you like me to say a little prayer for you?”

To which the sick lady responded by saying:

“Well if it helps you father, by all means do.”

Our duty to the McElkerney family is not just being here, but to listen to their pain.

To his heart broken family, who was Martin?

Martin was one of 13 children, born on 27th June 1962. He had a good start in life as he was born in Bedeque Street off the Crumlin Road, in North Belfast. He was baptised in St Patrick’s Church, Donegall Street, a church that has a special place in the life of the McElkerney family.

He faced major difficulties at birth with his breathing and it was thought that he would not make it. But his mother has great faith in St Martin, and after interceding with him, Martin survived and was subsequently named after his mother’s favourite saint.

Martin started school at St Aidan’s Primary at the top of the Whiterock Road, before moving on to St Thomas’ Secondary School. However, there is a bit of a travelling bug in this family, and he completed his secondary education at St Patrick’s Bearnageeha on the Antrim Road.

The family were burnt out of their home in north Belfast early on in the Troubles, and they got passports stamped as they crossed the border from North Belfast to Disneyland in West Belfast. This was a very different experience for the McElkerney family, as they left behind the comfort of the small streets around the Crumlin Road to move into two caravans in Beechmount, before eventually settling in Springhill, or Beirut as it was known at the time!

Family memories include the yearly trek to Costa del Brittas Bay in Wicklow, with the back of the van decked out with extra seats for the children! Martin no doubt enjoying his hoard of sweets and Ruffle bars that he had kept stashed under lock and key in the cupboard in his room.

It wasn’t that he was miserly with his sweets, but bottles that were used for storing them had the lid closed so tightly that his brothers and sisters couldn’t unscrew it! That’s what you get coming from a big family!

Martin proclaimed himself the best footballer and hurler in the house. In soccer, Vincent fancied himself playing outside left and Martin thought he was an outside right, but according to his other brothers they couldn’t kick a back door between them.

His first job was as a painter and decorator for Paddy Murphy, and his first work placement was ironically here in St Peter’s Cathedral.

According to his family, the loss of many friends in the conflict, had a profound influence on martin’s decision to get directly involved in what is euphemistically referred to as ‘the Troubles.’

Those were sad and difficult times, and are hardly recognisable 21 years after the Good Friday Agreement which saw Martin released from Long Kesh after a decade and a half of incarceration.

Following his release from prison, Martin became aware that the choices he made in life, had significant and lasting consequences for others, including his family.

Following Martin’s death his organs were donated so that others might have life.

I turn to the poet John O’Donohue in the hope and prayer that his words bring comfort to those grieving today.

The bright moment in grief is when the sore absence gradually changes into a well of presence.

You become aware of the subtle companionship of the departed one.

You know that when you are in trouble, you can turn to this presence beside you and draw on it for encouragement and blessing.

The departed is now no longer restricted to any one place and can be with you any place you are.

It is good to know the blessings of this presence.

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