“Ultimately, we want justice for Michaela, but who knows when that day will come. So I have to keep my feelings in check. My wellbeing cannot depend on the outcome of a case that could run for many more years. Life has to be that way for me or else I think I would find it hard to move forward.”
Those are Mickey Harte’s words from his memoir, Devotion, which was released last October.
The renowned Gaelic football manager dedicated around a third of the autobiography to depicting his daughter Michaela’s wedding, her murder and subsequent aftermath.
For anyone that doesn’t know, Harte is a man of dedicated faith. He has faced adversity throughout his life in many forms - with his GAA career, tumultuous relationship with the media, and of course, his only daughter’s death.
But if there’s one thing Mickey Harte can pride himself on, it’s his ability to keep moving forward.
It makes it even stranger and sadder then, that a group of fully grown men decided to drag themselves backwards - and down through the gutter - in a vile sectarian and misogynistic chant.
I think for many people, particularly those from Harte’s native Co Tyrone, it’s been peculiar and poignant to see Michaela’s photos and names back in the headlines again.
We all thought - and hoped - that the next time such extensive media coverage would be given to the 27-year-old schoolteacher, would be when her killer(s) are at last brought to justice.
But while a group of loyalists with an inconceivable lack of empathy tried to drag Michaela’s name through the mud, all they did was tarnish their own, and remind us of just how bitter and awful this place can be at times.
I think enough coverage has been given to the likes of Andrew McDade, John Bell and Richie Beattie though, and their concerns around the ‘public witch hunt’ they believe to have ensued amid the court of “a growing social media mob who appear to have lost all grip on reality”.
A very prolific journalist once told me that “anything critical involving sport or politics will get you abuse, because of the passions involved”.
That is definitely true, and the past seven days has shown that too, with the ‘what about themmuns’ brigade trying to retaliate with force.
But such is the magnitude of Michaela McAreavey’s murder - and the testament to her memory as a kind and compassionate young woman - her name has united people across the political and sporting spectrums.
Mickey Harte’s three sons also penned their own extracts throughout the Tyrone legend’s latest book.
The one statement that always resonated with me is how Mattie Harte looks back on all the people that came to the family house for Michaela’s wake to pay their respects - an estimated 20,000, in total.
“I remember Fr Gerard (McAleer) told me that Donna Traynor from the BBC broke down in his arms after she interviewed him,” he writes.
Alongside GAA stars from all generations, he remembers Winkie Rea, the former loyalist paramilitary coming and introducing himself on behalf of the Shankill Northern Ireland Football Supporters’ Club.
“I will never forget seeing the DUP come through: Peter Robinson, who was First Minister at the time, along with Arlene Foster, Nelson McCausland and Maurice Morrow. I met them in the corridor outside the wake room and burst out crying,” the youngest Harte son continues.
“Suddenly it hit me how big the whole thing was. Michaela’s death touched people on both sides of the community. The IFA held a minute’s silence at all soccer league games. Stuff like that was unheard of in the North.”
I think if anything is to resonate with those that sung the abhorrent song mocking Michaela’s death - if the immensity of their bigotry, sexism and casual attitude towards violence against women is otherwise lost on them - then these words should stick, and shame them to their core.
While their song was fuelled by anger and hatred, intended to cause division and vitriol, by contrast, the worlds in Northern Ireland which often collide, instead harmonised - both at the time of Michaela’s death and now.
Sport has been the perfect microcosm for this too.
Tyrone and Armagh have long been county rivals on the GAA pitch. It was the Orchard County that Harte’s squad beat in 2003 to secure their first All-Ireland title, and the photos of Michaela with her proud father that day have been prolific across the island, way before her untimely death.
The teams’ most recent bust-up came in a National League match back in February, when many of the athletes got involved in a hefty pitch brawl that resulted in five sending-offs during the Division One derby.
So, it’s fair to say there’s no love lost between the counties.
But during their championship clash last weekend, Armagh support led a spontaneous standing ovation for Michaela before the match, and during the 27th minute - commemorating the 27 years Michaela was alive - fans launched into a minute of applause for the Harte and McAreavey families.
We love our tribal differences in Northern Ireland, but when faced with disaster and devastation, the majority of us bond together and I do believe, like Mickey Harte, that majority wants to move forward, away from the resentment and darkness of our region’s past.
Whenever the news broke of Michaela’s tragic killing 11 years ago, I was 17 and still attending St Patrick’s Academy in Dungannon - the school she taught in. Although she never directly taught me, she was always well-known and well regarded by everyone.
To this day, I’ve never seen or experienced communal grief quite like that of my school, and indeed my county, when she died.
But I’ve also never seen such communal support. The Michaela Foundation was set up later that year, and within a decade it had hosted just under 120 summer camps throughout every province in Ireland, and worked with 10,000 young people.
The organisation was brought to a close last year by Michaela’s widower, John McAreavey, who said “our focus will shift to a new initiative, one which we hope will create a tangible and permanent memory to Michaela’s spirit”, but it’s safe to say that the memory of Michaela will always be permanent here.
She was passionate about everything she did in her life, and she put that passion into beneficial and constructive things.
At her funeral, four items which summarised that were brought into the church: a family photograph, a Fáinne pin symbolising her love of the Irish language, a Pioneer pin to show she abstained from alcohol and a red rose, signifying when she represented Ulster in the Irish Rose of Tralee festival in 2004.
A year after her death, one of her past pupils, Catherine Sherry was selected to be the Tyrone Rose at the international competition.
Aged 19 at the time, she said Michaela had inspired her to join the Rose of Tralee, and added: "I don't think she ever realised how inspiring she was.”
That statement probably sums up her legacy best, as Michaela is immortalised by her ability to inspire people, even in death, and that’s why we must keep moving forward - together.