Poignant funeral for young car crash victims

Thu, Oct 25, 2012, 01:00

LONG BEFORE the noon Mass of the Angels began in the village of Belclare, Co Galway yesterday, mourners were gathering. Their cars filled the village’s one street, its local sports ground, adjoining fields, and the driveways of houses that had opened their gates to the many who could find nowhere else to park along the narrow rural roads.

Some 60 volunteers from local football clubs at Corofin and Cortoon acted as stewards, directing traffic. The diverse registration plates in Belclare yesterday told their own story of solidarity with a grieving family: Galway, Dublin, Offaly, Roscommon, Mayo, Cork, Limerick, Carlow, Meath.

They were all there to attend the joint funerals of sisters Kate (2) and Grace Gilmore (12 weeks), who were killed when their pushchair was struck by a car last Sunday outside Tuam.

Michelle and John Gilmore were married in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Belclare, in 2008. Yesterday, in the same church, the community gathered in its hundreds and thousands to support two of their own in the tragic loss of their two little daughters. Those who could not get inside filled the church grounds and roads outside listened to the service via speakers. Men young and old wept openly.

Mass of the Angels was con-celebrated by the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary, and eight priests: Fr Martin Gleeson, Fr Francis Mitchell, Fr Shane O’Sullivan, Fr Michael Nohilly,

Fr Charlie McDonnell, Fr Patrick Mullins, Fr David Cribbin and Fr Fergal Cunnane.

Among the chief mourners were the deceased sisters’ grandparents, Ann and John Francis Gilmore, and Margaret and Michael Newell.

In his homily Fr Gleeson said: “The events of last Sunday afternoon have left us all in deep sorrow: the deaths of two beautiful children, Kate and Grace. ‘Shattered’ is the only word to describe such a loss and the grief it generated.

“And if that is true of the community at large, we can only guess what must be the grief and sense of loss of the parents, Michelle and John.

“They had two children to put to bed on Saturday night, and they were left with two corpses on Sunday. That’s the stark reality.”

Many in the congregation sobbed as he spoke.

Fr Gleeson went on to say: “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted. I have no doubt that for you, Michelle, John, and your extended families, the Lord is very close to you today.”

There were no offertory gifts, and only the simplest and smallest vases of pink and white flowers were present on the altar. Music was played throughout by the sibling group the Tuttles: Micheal Tuttle, who played keyboard, singer Eilish Donnellan and violinist Ann McGuire.

First and second readings were read by Noel Gilmore and Kevin Newell, uncles of the sisters. Five more uncles came to the altar to read prayers of the faithful: Pat, Mark and Jason Gilmore, and Brian and Paul Newell.

They stood together in a row, facing the altar, their shaking backs to the congregation. When Brian Newell broke down as he read a prayer to “our two princesses, Kate and Grace, whom we loved so, so much”, the four men silently put their arms around him and each other.

Tom Gilmore, a cousin of the family, read a poem, I’ll Be There. It began: “Daddy please don’t look so sad, Mommy please don’t cry, because we’re in the arms of Jesus as he sings a lullaby.” It continued: “Watch the sky at night. Find the brightest star that’s sleeping; that’s my eyes shining bright.”

At the end of the funeral mass Fr Gleeson told the congregation that Michelle and John Gilmore had asked him to “thank everyone who helped in any way in the last few days”. On behalf of the couple, he invited people to come to the front of the church to express their sympathy to them, as the musicians played Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star.

Hundreds did so, including many of those outside, queuing silently for up to an hour. They came with handshakes, fierce hugs and few words. They all briefly touched the small white coffin that contained both sisters, and looked one more time at the two photographs on top.

Burial afterwards was to nearby Killower Cemetery.