‘Even the heavens are crying’ - Huge crowds at funerals of Buncrana Pier victims

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‘Mammy I miss you so much. I am going to give you the biggest, tightest hug you ever got, when I see you again’.

These were the last words spoken by little Evan McGrotty to his mum Louise on the phone as he sat in the car by the pier on Sunday night, mourners at his Funeral Liturgy service in Derry were told this afternoon.

The kindness of strangers is another ray of light to lift us from our darkness.

Father Paddy O’Kane

Father Paddy O’Kane of Holy Family Church said that Evan’s mum Louise would take comfort in the fact that the five members of her family who died in Sunday night’s pier tragedy were now reunited in heaven, with her baby son Joshua.

“You are just going to have to wait a little longer until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan,” he said.

Fr Paddy O’Kane was speaking at the funerals of Ruth Daniels, her daughter Jodie-Lee (14) , son-in-law Sean McGrotty and his sons Mark (12), Evan (8), all of whom lost their lives when a family day out turned into a horrific tragedy.

The five members of the same family were on Buncrana Pier when the car they were in slid off the slipway and ended up in the water. The sole survivor was Sean’s daughter and Mark and Evan’s baby sister Rioghnach-Ann.

Davitt Walsh from Kerrykeel dived off the pier and managed to save her life before the car sank with the other occupants unable to get free.

“We are plunged in grief,” said Father Paddy.

“Even the heavens are crying. Five beautiful people have been taken tragically from our midst. Five people whom we loved. Not just this family, this community, this country, but also people from all over the world are united with us in grief.”

Extending his sympathies to the family the Derry priest turned to Louise and said: “You are most bereft of all for you have lost your family and our hearts go out to you especially. I know there are no words I can say here to express the depth of your heartbreak, no words to take away your pain or alleviate your sorrow.

“When I visited the funeral home on Tuesday morning and saw the five coffins, their occupants so peaceful in that sleep we call death, I broke down in tears. I was bereft and deep sighs came from my heart. When finally prompted to pray by the undertaker, the words seemed to echo, so empty and hollow.

“And yet there is one little sliver of light, one ray of hope bravely breaking through the dark clouds and it is this-little Rioghnach Ann has been saved. As Louise says to me again and again ‘She is my only reason to go on living’.”

He spoke of the self sacrifice made by Sean McGrotty on Sunday night as he desperately tried to save his family. And the bravery of Davitt Walsh who saved the life of Rioghnach Ann by swimming out to rescue her. “Davitt, today we salute you as our hero,” he said.

“We saw that generosity of spirit in Frances Crawford and others who raised the alarm, in the emergency services who responded to the call for help - for they did all that was humanly possible to resuscitate the bodies which thankfully were recovered immediately. We saw it in the way this community has rallied around Louise and all those who grieve here today. The kindness of strangers is another ray of light to lift us from our darkness.

“Louise, your faith is strong as I hear you say how your sons Mark and Evan, partner Sean, mother Ruth and Jody-Lee your only sister, are now reunited in heaven with your little baby Joshua who lived for only seventeen hours. You are just going to have to wait a little longer ‘until you get that tight hug promised to you from Evan.”

Today’s service was attended by Commandant Louise Conlon representing President Michael D Higgins, Kieran Carey representing the Taoiseach and Martin Mc Guinness, Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister.

A number of symbols representing the lives of Jodie-Lee, Mark and Evan were brought to the altar by their friends from St Eithne’s, St Joseph’s and St Mary’s school.

Tributes to Mark and Evan were read by Damien Harkin, Principal of Saint Joseph’s School, Jodi Lee by Marie Lindsay, Principal of Saint Mary’s College, for Sean by his brother Jim McGrotty and to Ruth by her son Joshua Daniels.