Belfast Telegraph

'Life is precious and life is brittle, life is very fragile,' mourners told as four funerals take place in Donegal

Friends: Mícheál Roarty, Shaun Harkin, Daniel Scott, and John Harley were laid to rest on Thursday.
Friends: Mícheál Roarty, Shaun Harkin, Daniel Scott, and John Harley were laid to rest on Thursday.

By Ryan Nugent and Josh Downing

Back-to-back funerals were held in scenic and snow-swept Donegal as thousands turned out in the bitter cold to pay their respects to four young men.

Daniel Scott (23), from Gortahork, John Harley (24) and Shaun Harkin (22), both from Falcarragh, and Micheal Roarty (24), from Moneybeg, died in a single-vehicle crash near Magheraroarty, Gortahork on Sunday night.

The victims were travelling in a Toyota Corolla hatchback when it crashed near a bridge on a minor road.

Amid heartbreaking scenes, the funerals were staggered across West Donegal throughout the morning and into early afternoon.

The first funeral, of Shaun Harkin, took place in Gort an Choirce.

Parish priest Sean O Gallchoir described today as a day of “torment and trauma”. He said it was “one of the darkest and saddest days in the history of the community here”.

Fr O Gallchoir said the community bids goodbye to four fine young men “snatched away from us in the prime of their life, in the bloom of their youth”.

“[Shaun] was able to speak with everyone, young and old. He was always comfortable with people and he had great nature,” Fr O Gallchoir told the packed Church of Christ the King at Gortahork in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

Speaking in Irish, Fr O Gallchoir added the horrific accident in nearby Gleannahualach on Sunday night had torn the heart out of the local community and spread a dark cloud across the entire country. He offered special prayers for the Harkin family and all the people of the area, insisting that those grieving would have support and a listening ear.

Fr O Gallchoir also emphasised the need for safety on the roads and appealed to everyone to drive with greater care.

Daniel Scott’s friends showed him deep loyalty, the priest at his funeral said (Niall Carson/PA)
Daniel Scott’s friends showed him deep loyalty, the priest at his funeral said (Niall Carson/PA)

The youth of the entire group whose lives have so cruelly ended, was driven home by the reality that Shaun Harkin was baptised in this same church 1996, made his communion there in 2004, and was confirmed there in April 2008.

A guard of honour drawn from the local Chloich Cheann Fhaola GAA, Glenea United soccer club, and the local national and secondary schools, lined the avenue as the hearse bringing his coffin drove to Christ the King Church in Gort an Choirce.

The huge attendance included eight good friends who had travelled specially from Australia for the funeral. There were emotional scenes as the 22-year-old apprentice electrician was laid to rest in the local cemetery, and many of the mourners prepared to attend the three other funerals on a day of profound sadness and grief in the Donegal Gaeltacht and across Ireland.

Later, a snow-covered Mount Errigal loomed over the Sacred Heart Church in Dunlewey as talented footballer Micheal Roarty become the second of the friends to be laid to rest.

The heart-rending words of the poem by 1916 Rising leader, Padraig Pearse, were invoked at the second funeral mass in the Donegal Gaeltacht today.

A Gweedore GAA flag was draped around the 24-year-old’s coffin as it was carried into the chapel.

The funeral of Micheal Roarty at Sacred Heart Church in Dunlewey (Niall Carson/PA)
The funeral of Micheal Roarty at Sacred Heart Church in Dunlewey (Niall Carson/PA)

Many of his teammates wore club colours for their friend. Such was the turnout, hundreds stood outside in freezing conditions to pay their respects.

His coffin was led out by members of the Gweedore team and their Donegal and Ulster titles which they won in recent months.

Fr Brian O Fearraigh cited the line: “Bron ar an mbas, ’se dhubh mo chroise (the sorrow of death has blackened my heart)” to sum up the great cloud of grief covering an entire community. The divisional, county and Ulster football trophies won by Micheal Roarty’s beloved GAA club, Gaoth Dobhair, were carried on front of the hearse bearing his remains.

His grieving family said Donegal GAA meant everything to the 24-year-old among the four young men tragically killed in a horrific crash on Sunday night. Local soccer teams joined with Gaoth Dobhair GAA members to form a guard of honour at the Sacred Heart Church in Dunlewey.

Fr O Fearraigh’s eulogy was also carried by loudspeakers to the hundreds of mourners huddled outside Sacred Heart Church who braced themselves against an icy wind. The priest paid a warm tribute to the young man noting that he could sometimes be “a rascal” but never did harm.

“There was a nobility about him, a humanity and he had great faith,” Fr O Fearraigh told the hundreds of mourners.

The funeral cortege of Shaun Harkin makes its way to Christ the King Church in Gortahork (Niall Carson/PA)
The funeral cortege of Shaun Harkin makes its way to Christ the King Church in Gortahork (Niall Carson/PA)

The priest said the sense of sorrow and loss felt by Micheal Roarty’s family and friends as being "as great as the majestic mountain of Errigal and as deep as the nearby lake of Dun Luiche, lying quietly in this glen".

Later in the afternoon, Fr James Gillespie described the scene of shock and despair at the family home of John Harley when he visited late on the night of the young man’s death.

In his homily, the parish priest said he got a call from the Harley household at around 11pm on Sunday night.

“I arrived to a house of tears and shock, and disbelief, numb with what had just unfolded,” he said.

“Very little was said, and what could be said? No one had words.”

He said all that could be done was to try comfort the family.

The funeral cortege of Shaun Harkin makes its way to Christ the King Church in Gortahork, in County Donegal, Ireland, he was one of four young men who died following a road crash in a remote area of north west Co Donegal on Sunday evening.
The funeral cortege of Shaun Harkin makes its way to Christ the King Church in Gortahork, in County Donegal, Ireland, he was one of four young men who died following a road crash in a remote area of north west Co Donegal on Sunday evening.

The funeral mass of Mr Harley, also 24, took place at 1pm in Falcarragh.

Similarly to the first two funerals, a huge GAA presence conducted a guard of honour.

Mr Harley was a gifted and dedicated sportsman, albeit less enthusiastic about his football training, Fr Gillespie said, noting: "He did things when they needed to be done."

His friends described him as a brilliant mate and an "all-round nice guy", as Fr Gillespie put it.

The clergyman paid tribute to all the bereaved families, suffering grief and pain mixed with disbelief, and said the local community had provided great support.

"It is great comfort to know that he meant so much to so many.

"People from all over the world have been here for the Harley family. He was a man who was admired and loved by all who met him."

As the mass came towards the end one of Mr Harley’s favourite songs, ‘Beeswing’ was played out on the speaker.

Finally, concluding the toughest of days for the tight-knit community, Fr Sean O Gallchoir spoke at the mass of fourth victim Daniel Scott.

Mr Scott had been to go to Denmark to start a new job .

The parish priest - saying his second funeral mass of the day - said: “Hundreds of people from these parishes have given up their week’s work to be stewards and marshalls and helpers at the four wakes."

He spoke of Mr Scott’s love for fashion. He “a man of style”, which was highlighted during the mass, as gifts of aftershave and hair gel were brought to the altar.

Fr O Gallchoir said he didn’t believe the church in Gortahork had ever been so busy in its 65 years and said the community “is full of broken hearts”.

He spoke of how precious life is and urged caution for those on the roads.

“Life is precious and life is brittle, life is very fragile, we saw that on Sunday night. Everybody hurts,” he said.

“Every time that I sit into my car, that you sit into your car there should be the deep decision and resolution to drive with care, to drive with attention, to drive safely so that no harm will fall on anybody.

“The car as we can see is a lethal weapon. We know that life is busy, life is hectic, we’re all in a rush, we’re all in a hurry, we all have deadlines but deadlines can sometimes result in dead lives,” he added.

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