Tragic midwife Deirdre McShane (58) who died in Ballycastle sea accident remembered at funeral as 'force of nature'
Against the breathtakingly beautiful backdrop of the ocean that claimed her life, friends and family on Friday carried Deirdre McShane's coffin from her family home near the picturesque harbour through the tiny village of Ballintoy which has been made world famous thanks to a global TV hit series.
The Game of Thrones tour buses still weaved their way around the popular filming locations around Ballintoy as the village was saying farewell to one of its own.
Not since the Giro d'Italia cycle race swept through five years ago has the village seen so many people on its streets, where a pink Giro tractor still has pride of place beside St Mary's and St Joseph's church, where the Requiem Mass for Deirdre (58) was held.
The service was celebrated by her cousin, Fr Brendan Hickland, who almost broke down during his tribute to the "unassuming and honest" community midwife and mother of two.
The little church on the north Antrim village's main street simply couldn't cope with the number of people who wanted to attend the Mass and even though the church hall and a nearby hostel were opened up, dozens of mourners still had to stand outside to hear Fr Hickland describe Deirdre as "a blessing to many" and a "force of nature".
The priest said the hearts of Deirdre's children, Roisin and Odhran, and "love of her life" Joe had been shattered, numbed and left disbelieving that something so tragic and accidental could have happened to her on Monday as she went for her morning swim at Ballycastle with her friends from the SwimRise group.
"She loved jumping into the Atlantic Ocean every morning," Fr Hickland said, before revealing more details about the tragedy and thanking people who tried to save his cousin after she got into difficulties in the freezing waters.
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He told how Deirdre's swimming companion went to her assistance and pushed her forward in the sea, holding her hand as they both "courageously" tried to get out of the water.
Her friend, he said, then got Deirdre onto her back to try to swim her to safety.
The priest also praised passer-by Aine Paterson for bringing Deirdre's body out of the water after rescuing the other swimmer and he also paid tribute to people who performed CPR at the scene, adding: "Who knows if the sea would ever have given Deirdre's body back."
Deirdre's son, Odhran, struggled to cope with his emotions as he read a Bible passage to the congregation, which included members of the emergency services who raced to the scene at Ballycastle beach.
Fr Hickland said that Deirdre started every morning with a prayer for the new day ahead of her. And he talked of how she always did good and wanted to be a nurse from the age of four.
He said in later life, Deirdre was passionate about her vocation as a nurse and midwife and she was "honest, unassuming and learned through her life to be true to her values and high standards".
The priest said Deirdre and her partner had faced challenges in their lives. He added, however, that Deirdre's response to the knocks and blows was to "expand her heart and soul".
Fr Hickland later spoke of Deirdre's care for the babies she delivered and for their mothers.
He said she visited countless new mothers, advising them to feed their babies naturally and added that would make countless phone calls to check that everyone was okay.
The priest went on: "Her confidentiality, her commitment and professionalism were so well respected by those who came in contact with her and by her work colleagues, so many of whom she counted among her wide circle of friends."
Fr Hickland said Deirdre encouraged people to live healthier lives by eating the right food and "would almost demand that you too would join the SwimRise group". He laughed: "I would say a few people had to think of a few excuses every time Deirdre appeared."
The priest said Deirdre didn't mince her words, "but it was only because she cared so much and she made you think".
Fr Hickland added that Deirdre's energy and enthusiasm were infectious, and revealed she was also a keen Irish speaker and tin whistle player who also followed "the activities" of the Royal families of Europe, a subject on which she was "an expert".
After communion, Deirdre's daughter Roisin read an imagined Christmas greeting from her mother which was based on a poem by Wanda Benke and greeted by a warm applause from the hundreds of mourners.
Dozens of medical colleagues and friends from the swimming, sports and music world formed a guard of honour as Deirdre's coffin was borne to the adjoining churchyard by her partner Joe, son Odhran and other relatives.