Close to 1,000 people stood in silence, inside and outside the Church of the Holy Family in Rathcoole, Co Dublin, as the small white coffins of Conor, Darragh and Carla McGinley were wheeled in and placed in front of the altar from where, disconcertingly, they and their father Andrew McGinley beamed, all smiles from an enlarged family snapshot.
“Although we are in a House of God,” Mr McGinley told mourners, “no God should allow this to happen.”
But this was not a funeral of anger or dispair. This was a funeral infused with deep sorrow and bewilderment. It was infused also with love and a firm belief that ultimately, light always banishes the darkness.
Conor (9), Darragh (7) and Carla (3) died in their home on Friday, January 24th. Their mother Deirdre Morley has been charged with their murder.
In his eulogy Mr McGinley spoke at length, displaying remarkable poise, courage and humour.
There was a fire crew, he said, recalling the hideous moment when he entered the family home at Parson’s Court in Newcastle to find what he could not, in his wildest nightmare, have imagined would ever happen.
“There was a fire crew who I don’t know so I hope they get to hear this,” he said. “They entered the house with me and they knew when to step in and they knew when to pull back . . . One of the team, I think he may have been the lead, provided me with much clarity in the middle of the insanity. You know who you are and I want to thank you.”
Pots of tea
James and Edel of Hotel 44 helped make recent days bearable, he said, with many pots of tea. Neighbours Gavin and Audrey - “Gavin, you were beside me when I opened the door and entered the house and I’m so sorry for that but I was so thankful you were there beside me.”
Chief celebrant at the funeral Mass was Fr Kevin Doherty from Donegal, supported by parish priest Fr John Gilligan, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, and joined by the Rev Stephen Neill of the Church of Ireland.
When Ireland would lose a match, I used to say I was heartbroken. I now know what that really means
“Fr Kevin,” said Mr McGinley turning to the priest, “when I spoke to you on Saturday, I was filled with rage and anger but you spoke to me not about God’s plan or about angels, you spoke about love and compassion and understanding. You may never know how much that meant and how it has carried me through this far.”
Mr McGinley took the congregation - filled with friends and supporters of both the McGinley and Morley families, as well as people associated with the children’s school, creche and sports clubs, and sympathisers from the wider community - on a tour through the many happy times he had had with Conor, Darragh and Carla, referring to them notably in the present tense.
There was Lego, Captain Marvel, Thor and Hulk - “thank you Robert Downey Jnr and thank you Chris Hemsworth for bringing Ironman and Thor to life,” he said as the congregation laughed.
He thanked Frozen for princesses Ana and Elsa and the snowman Olaf. Paw Patrol and Teen Titans. “You brought my children joy,” he said.
Referring to the Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson he said “what you need to understand is the time your work gave us to snuggle our kids and to hold them close as we followed that snail on its wonderful trail on the tail of whale”.
And so it went on. A man in the depths of grief and loss that likely no one else present could even begin to understand, recalling happy times and all the time thanking others.
Grace and love
It was a remarkable display of raw courage, fortitude, grace and love.
“We often misuse words,” he said. “When Ireland would lose a match, I used to say I was heartbroken. I now know what that really means. We, as a family, are heartbroken...Conor, Darragh and Carla,” he said looking at the three coffins, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”
In such terrible and cruel darkness, could one dare to say there was light, Fr Doherty asked in his homily, answering himself in the affirmative.
“This light is surely found in the community of Parsons Court and the community in Newcastle,” he said. “The outpouring of goodness and kindness and love among us is extraordinary. The coming together to cry, to hug, to laugh, to remember, to help is a light in the darkness.”
Deirdre Morley was mentioned by name just once - when the priest recalled, faltering with his own emotions, seeing a photograph.
“The family know what I am going to say,” he said.
Sitting recently in the McGinley’s kitchen, there was a snapshot suck to the fridge door that caught his eye. It was of Carla’s baptism in the church now hosting the child’s funeral.
“That was a happy day,” said Fr Kevin. “It was a joy-filled day. It was a wonderful family day. And I was very moved to see that picture - because I’m in it, yes - but more because of this: in the very moment of her baptism, God made Carla a promise…that her life is eternal, it is forever.
“God had already made that promise to Conor and Darragh. And when I poured the water over Carla’s head, I was praying for her. Now, with all my heart and all my soul, I ask that she prays for us. Darragh and Conor too.”
Teachers from Scoil Chrónáin provided music on uilleann pipes, tin whistle, guitar and fiddle, and sang. Rathcoole Boys Football Club coaches and helpers provided a guard of honour.
At the Prayers of the Faithful, a young boy praying for the children’s teachers, the football club and the Happy Feet creche staff was unable to contain his grief. Mr McGinley left his pew, walked forward calmly to put his arms around the young man and help him read.
The moment’s reflection after the eucharist was a rendering of the Foo Fighters’ Everlong. The children’s coffins left the church to the strains of the teachers playing Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven, written in memory of his four-year-old son who fell to his death from a New York skyscraper.
Outside the church, Mr McGinley stood in silence as the coffins of his two sons and daughter were slid gently into a hearse, the three so small they were all contained within one vehicle.
A boy stood beside him. They hugged and exchanged sad, supportive smiles.
Small shafts of light.