Ruth Maguire's partner carries coffin of 'soul mate' he was due to wed this year
He should have been walking his beautiful bride Ruth Maguire down the aisle in 137 days time, but on Saturday Jim Griffin helped to slowly carry the coffin of his 'soul mate' from the same north Belfast church where the couple were due to be married.
Jim and Ruth's relatives and friends, who should have been among the 180 wedding guests in August, were dealing with very different emotions - as mourners - at a Requiem Mass for the 30-year-old nursing assistant, who was wearing the wedding dress she had picked for her big day but in which she was buried instead.
Her three children, Tyler (10), Lydia (7) and Oliver (5), were to have played roles at the wedding, acting as their mum's attendants, but on Saturday their relations were looking after them, holding them close as they walked in and out of church.
Ruth's death came during a week of unrelenting tragedy here and though at her Mass, Father Darach Mac Giolla Cathain didn't make direct reference to the recent Cookstown disaster, it and a series of other deaths was clearly on his mind.
He said: "These last days have had the shadow of grief cast over them - all of which makes the strength in God even greater."
Ruth went missing on a friend's hen night in Carlingford, Co Louth, sparking a huge search which ended in tragedy after her body was found last Monday in the nearby lough.
Ruth's family believe she fell into the water after she became disorientated on leaving the hen party in a pub across the road.
Some of her friends who had been with Ruth were among the hundreds of people who walked behind her coffin the short distance from her family home off the Ligoniel Road to the Church of St Vincent de Paul.
Prayers of thanks were said there for the police, coastguard and other emergency services who searched for Ruth and who were praised for their "professionalism, empathy, warmth and kindness".
A member of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution carried a wreath into the church in memory of Ruth, whose picture sat on top of her coffin.
A family photograph of her and Jim with their children was also brought to the front of the packed church.
The congregation included many members of Bryansford GAA club, whose under-6 side was coached by Ruth. The tiny track-suited youngsters formed a guard of honour.
Other members of the club were attending the funerals on Saturday of two other young men who were associated with the Bryansford club and who, by a tragic twist of fate, died in a single-car road accident near Carlingford last Monday. Shane McAnallen and Martin Patterson, who were in their 20s, had been juvenile members of the Bryansford club which expressed shock and sorrow at the triple tragedy that devastated them and the entire community.
Ruth and her partner Jim lived in Newcastle and she worked in Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry. Father Mac Giolla Caihain paid a moving tribute to Ruth, saying she had dedicated her life to others through her caring job and as a trainer in sport and Irish dancing.
He also revealed that Ruth had run part of a marathon to raise money in honour of her grandmother. The priest said Ruth was the baby of her family but she was 'the boss who kept her siblings on their toes'.
He added: "Ruth was slow to take offence and quick to forgive, she realised that life is too short."
Describing her as a devoted mother, he said family was at the heart of her life. Talking about the couple's wedding plans, the priest told Jim Griffin, who had earlier posted a social media message saying Ruth wasn't just his partner but also his soul mate: "My prayer is that the grace you were due to receive will come to you today Jim, and sustain you and the children in the future. May she meet you, Jim, in God's kingdom, dressed in dazzling white."
Much of the priest's homily was directed at Ruth's children and he told them: "Today, remember very carefully that your mummy loved you so much. She was so proud of you, and you'll have so many people around you to help you and comfort you.
"Remember there is always hope, always faith, always love."
Ruth was buried later in Carnmoney cemetery.