'Society has failed a child' - priest questions efforts to tackle bullying
MOURNERS AT the funeral of Erin Gallagher, the Donegal teenager who took her life amid complaints of being bullied, were told that “society has failed a 13-year-old child”.
Addressing Erin’s family and schoolfriends, Fr John Joe Duffy urged young people to talk more openly about their problems, but he also questioned whether the authorities had done enough to tackle cyberbullying.
“I would rather be anywhere else but here at the funeral Mass of a 13-year-old child, and I know, as Erin’s mum Lorraine has stated in the last number of days, she would not want anyone to suffer this great pain, this great suffering both she and her family are going through, the loss of a child, and there is a message in that for all of us.”
Speaking of the sense of “disbelief” and “unrealness” her death brought, Fr Duffy, recently appointed chaplain at Finn Valley College, where Erin Gallagher went to school, said: “Any one of us would love to be able to turn back the clock so we would not be here today but, by its presence, this community wants to tell you as a family it also feels your pain.
“This community wants to reach out to you, to heal hurt, to heal sadness, to heal broken hearts,” Fr Duffy told her mother Lorraine (36), who sat with Erin’s sister Shannon (15), and brother Seán James (4), along with a wide circle of relatives and friends.
Members of Erin’s boxing and GAA clubs were among the hundreds of people who attended the service at St Mary’s Church, Stranorlar.
Her classmates sat together, many wearing flourishes of pink, Erin’s favourite colour. They held hands and wept, with the dazed expressions of children suddenly thrust into a very grown-up world.
Fr Duffy had special words of comfort for them, noting: “Erin’s death may be the first experience of death and loss for many of you. You may feel overwhelmed by your feelings which may possibly be one, or many.
“On the other hand, you may not have a strong reaction at this moment in time . . . It is okay to ask questions such as ‘why?’ But be patient with yourselves and allow yourselves to grieve. Don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings to your family, to your teachers, to me or to the other priests and indeed to your friends.”
He said any young person in crisis should not be afraid to speak to “someone you trust”, or to organisations such as the Samaritans, Childline, the HSE or the Garda. He also urged them to rethink their use of social networking websites such as ask.fm, which Erin had been frequenting before her death. “I am now asking each one of you: is it necessary to have ask.fmin your lives? . . . When we see the consequences of what such discussions can do to some people, I am asking you to seriously think about going home today and to delete ask.fmand never agree to frequent that site or any other sites . . .