Thousands of mourners listened in silence as the Derry woman who lost five members of her immediate family gave voice to the terrible tragedy that has stunned the north west at their funeral.
Many wiped away tears as Louise James, who lost her partner Sean; sons Mark (12) and Evan (8); mother Ruth and little sister Jodie-Lee, read a poem describing how the horrific events of last Sunday have left “a city stunned in silence, hearts broken beyond repair.”
Louise went on to thank all those who had come to the assistance of her family on Sunday evening, including Buncrana man Francis Crawford and his wife, the RNLI, Coastguard, Fire Services, medical services and Gardai.
“And finally,” she said, “we will be eternally grateful to Davitt Walsh and his girlfriend Stephanie for, without fear for his own life and safety, he entered the Lough Swilly to save my Rioghnach-Ann and I will be forever grateful. Thank you so, so much.”
Her words were greeted with applause from those gathered inside the Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty and the thousands more who lined the periphery of the Church grounds, in places seven deep.
Earlier, as the funeral procession wound its way down from Louise’s Hazelbank home, Derry City players lined up at the Church entrance while staff at nearby businesses pulled their shutters and stood sentinel outside as a mark of respect.
Local priest, Fr Paddy O’Kane, flanked by Catholic Bishop of Derry Dr Donal McKeown and Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry Ken Good and other clergy, presented a powerful symbol of a community united in grief, as the cortege arrived. Floral tributes inside the hearses spelt out simply ‘Sister’, ‘Son’, ‘Jodie’, ‘Mark’, and ‘Evan’ for each of those who have been lost.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and representatives from the offices of An Taoiseach and the President of Ireland joined neighbours and friends of the deceased as the three white coffins of Jodie, Mark and Evan were carried into the Church followed by those of Ruth Daniels and Sean McGrotty.
During the poignant funeral service, teachers, relatives and friends of those who died recalled in vivid detail the much-loved individuals behind the tragedy.
Symbols were also brought up to the altar representing each of the five, with a trinket box for Ruth, a Celtic top for Sean, Jodie-Lee’s favourite picture of her idol Justin Bieber, a school project designed by Mark and little Evan’s red football.
Terence McDowell, principal of St Eithne’s recalled how Evan had loved going to school.
“Evan never let anything hold him back,” he said. “He loved taking part in PE and was always the first in line to charge out to the playground to play games with his friends.
“He was a beautiful writer and a fantastic artist. He was preparing to maker his First Communion in May and was greatly looking forward to that special occasion.”
St Joseph’s Principal, Damien Harkin said Mark was a “hardworking pupil who was eager to please and always did his best.”
“His form teacher described him as a ‘teacher’s dream.’ Bright, mannerly, ambitious and creative,” Mr Harkin said: “He had a charm and a likability that was infectious.”
Marie Lindsay, Principal at St Mary’s College, followed and said Jodie-Lee was “a beautiful girl” with a “beautiful heart that packed a life-time of love into 14 short years”.
“That beautiful heart taught us to seize life and make every day count. She had great ability in the class, and she did work really hard. She had the world at her feet.”
Jim McGrotty related how he had watched his younger brother grow into a man they were all proud of, and who followed his father’s love of pigeon racing.
“Sean lived for Louise and all his children,” he said. “In his teenage years Sean made many friends easily. He loved the craic and a bit of devilment. Those friends remained with him throughout his life, which is a testament to Sean.”
Derry City player Josh Daniels , said his mother Ruth had been a “very loving, kind and down to earth woman”.
“She treated everyone the same and could draw anyone towards her with her warm and infectious character,” he said.“She loved to see people doing well, especially her own. Everything I achieve will be for her and everything I become will be because of her. I will be forever grateful and proud.”
As the Service ended, the five coffins were led out to a stirring rendition of the Recessional Hymn, ‘Voice Of An Angel’ by St Mary’s College and as heartbroken relatives embraced each other, the very air itself seemed tinged with sadness as Ruth, Sean, Jodie-Lee, Mark and Evan were taken to their final resting place in the City Cemetery.