Concepta ‘Connie’ Leonard was murdered in a “moment of evil” and “madness”, mourners at her funeral service were told on Friday.
Connie, a 51-year-old musician, was killed by her former partner in her Maguiresbridge home in Co Fermanagh on Monday in what the charity Women’s Aid described as an “extreme act of domestic violence”.
Her 30-year-old son, Conor, was stabbed by the attacker, Peadar Phair, as he sought to protect his mother. He was hospitalised until Thursday with his injuries.
The attacker is thought to have taken his own life at the scene.
Conor, who has Down’s Syndrome, helped carry his mother’s coffin amid moving scenes.
Hundreds of mourners at St Mary’s Church in Brookeborough heard how she was a gifted traditional Irish musician who had won multiple awards. She had taught music in schools and at local music groups.
As her coffin was placed outside the church, some of those Connie had taught gave a touching traditional Irish musical tribute as they formed a circle around their former teacher.
Pupils from Jones Memorial Primary School, where Connie had worked as a cook, performed a guard of honour alongside members of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service where her brother, Fergal Leonard, is a group commander.
Fr Brendan Gallagher, in a heartbreaking homily, spoke of how brave Conor had “cared for and protected his mother” during the brutal attack.
He told mourners: “These past few days have been a great challenge to the faith of this family, this community. Because on Monday afternoon, in the light of a May day, evil intent visited this peaceful community. Evil lurking in the shadow, seeking to destroy life.
“But in that moment of madness, Conor cared for and protected his mum. We see him holding her hand to reassure her and we see him finding the courage and confidence to seek help.
“That is the reality, the horror of evil intent. But since that time, this family, this community have stood in the light, to confront, to overcome the dark shadows that seek to destroy life.”
Fr Gallagher continued: “In such a horrific death which Connie experienced, the constant question is why?
“Why should such a terrible thing happen to such a beautiful person?
“Where is our God in this moment of evil? Could this tragedy have been avoided? Circumstances could have been different.”
He went on: “Many people experience and express feelings of regret. If I had been there to protect. If I had done something differently!
“But we know that Connie would not want family or friends, thinking or feeling that way. Because for her, she had Conor with her, and that was the most important person she wanted with her at that moment.”
“The circumstances and the tragedy of Connie’s death cannot destroy the love that was in her heart and soul. The love that all of you, family and friends, received from her.”
Fr Gallagher continued: “And that is what we celebrate today, with open hearts, silently, with dignity and respect. Because the emotion, the experience of love, is felt not in our heads but in our hearts. So today we celebrate all that was loving, tender and beautiful in Connie’s life. Gifts and blessings and memories that we cherish and hold close to our hearts.
“Each one of us here, from the very young, to the old, experienced the beauty of the love that radiated from the heart of Connie’s life.”
He went to describe Conor as “our reason to hope”.
The parish priest said: “For Connie, the death of her mother Moira was a great loss to her. But in some way the absence of a mother’s love was reclaimed when she gave life to her own son Conor. She was a devoted mother and together they shared a special bond of love. Conor was at the heart of everything in her life and together they developed friendships and lived experiences that most of us could only dream about.”
He added: “Conor is our future and our reason to hope. Thankfully he survived the ordeal of Monday, because he is the one who will lead us all on the journey of recovery. His love and his affection will be a source of healing for all, he is the light that will renew the spirit of hope in our lives.”
Connie had sought the protection of the courts against her ex-partner. She had taken out a ‘non-molestation order’ against her eventual killer - a civil court action designed to prevent an ex-partner from using or threatening violence.
The order was due to expire on Tuesday and Ms Leonard was due to apply for a new non-molestation order on the same day. She was killed on Monday.