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Claire McNeilly - Byline image

Tears and white roses, balloons and applause as community life halts for Noah Donohoe funeral

Claire McNeilly


Noah Donohoe came back to north Belfast on Wednesday.

This time everyone knew who he was. This time his mother and other loved ones were nearby.

And this time we could see for ourselves how popular he was, and what an impression the tragic ending of his all-too-short life made, even on those he had never met.

Hundreds of people, many of whom had joined in the heartbreakingly unsuccessful search for the missing 14-year-old schoolboy last week, gathered on both sides of the road between St Patrick's Church and St Malachy's College.

As the hearse bearing Noah's white coffin, large white lillies and a smiling picture of mum and son slowly glided past, there were various bursts of spontaneous applause from a visibly moved crowd.

Children had come with their mothers and fathers to pay their last respects - as well as to simply be there for Fiona and her family who have borne highly-publicised, unimaginable tragedy and subsequent grief with admirable, remarkable dignity.

Requiem mass in the central Belfast church was small and private, in ironic contrast to one of the most intensive searches for a missing child that Northern Ireland has ever seen.

It was no surprise that the efforts of so many volunteers, professional teams and police were acknowledged by Fr Michael McGinnity in his homily.

No surprise either that we learned from Fiona's own words that her only child was "a beautiful soul with a beautiful mind who poured a lifetime of love into 14 short years".

Noah's loved ones were, of course, already well aware of the popular, gifted pupil, celloist and basketball player who, according to Fr McGinnity, "had met life with a sense of wonder at everything around him and in him".

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The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Sergeant Craig McDowell salutes as the funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Sergeant Craig McDowell salutes as the funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

The funeral of Noah Donohoe takes place in Belfast on July 1st 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

It almost went without saying that his death had brought "a tangible sense of shock and disbelief" that gripped people "in Belfast and far beyond it".

Nowhere was this more evident than at St Malachy's, where former classmates and teachers lined the path leading to and from the school gates as the hearse, followed by the Donohoe family in a black limousine, made a planned detour en route to Roselawn cemetery.

Shortly before they arrived Sean McCarry, Community Search and Rescue (CSR) regional commander, walked along the road lined by his colleagues, ensuring the path was clear of people waiting for the cortege, which was being led by two of the CSR men on motorbikes.

They had combed virtually every inch of north Belfast since Noah was first reported missing on June 21.

Noah's disappearance and his mum Fiona's distraught pleas for help in finding him captured hearts and minds, and gave an often bitterly divided community in that area of Belfast a collective sense of purpose throughout those dark days and nights until his body was finally found on the June 27.

From her window seat in the vehicle, Fiona could see many members of the CSR teams, along with other volunteers, forming a guard of honour from Carlisle Circus to the school.

She could also see the countless bouquets of flowers, candles, cards and messages festooning the college gates.

At the same time, blue balloons, a reference to last Sunday night's poignant vigils were once again released into the grey sky, as heavy rain - and tears - began to fall.

There were solemn young boys dressed in school uniforms, mothers with babies in buggies, young and old men and women standing still, some with faces streaked from crying, as applause rang out time and again for the devastated family of the teenage boy who went out on his bike one sunny Sunday afternoon and never came home.

Pastor Brian Madden, who got to know the Donohoes during the search for Noah, spoke of their grace amid the grief.

"The family has been so gracious, despite the enormous pain they've had to deal with," he said, standing outside the church yesterday.

Karen Crooks, the woman who owns the house where Noah left his black Apollo mountain bicycle shortly before he vanished, had also come to pay her respects. You could tell from her swollen eyes that she too had been weeping.

Single white roses were left lying along the street, workmen stopped what they were doing and stood in silence and cars came to a halt as mourners slowly made their way towards St Malachy's.

Hopefully many aspects of this day will bring some comfort to the Donohoe family.

The balloons will disappear, the flowers will wilt and the candles will eventually crumble away.

Ultimately, for many who attended Noah's funeral, memories of the tragedy will fade.

But not for Fiona Donohoe, her sisters Niamh and Shona, parents Gerry and Margo and others who will carry precious memories of this special young man with them for the rest of their lives.

As the funeral cortege set out for Roselawn, a small boy, held high in his mother's arms, began to cry aloud as she attempted to console him.

How many times did Fiona Donohoe comfort Noah when his young tears were falling?

How many things has she now been denied?

How she must wish she could turn back time.

Belfast Telegraph