Miriam Lord: All remembered with love, laughter, sorrow

While this was very much a Travellers’ funeral, many others paid their respects

The funeral of Tara Gilbert, her partner Willy Lynch, their children Jodie and Kelsey and Willy’s brother Jimmy in the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The funeral of Tara Gilbert, her partner Willy Lynch, their children Jodie and Kelsey and Willy’s brother Jimmy in the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer, Bray, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


After Communion, a young woman dressed in black rose from her seat and walked past her family to the altar.

Family on both sides – seated along the front rows to her left and to her right, more loved ones. The ones they had come to mourn. She passed their five caskets: three steel grey and two pure white – the saddest of sights. She walked inside the rails, to the musicians and the microphone in the corner. There was a string quartet, a pianist and a guitar on a stand.

In the liturgical lull, the noise of babies crying and whispered conversation filled the space. Sarah Lynch lifted her head and began to sing. She needed no accompaniment. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound . . . ”

The congregation fell silent. Sarah held the words on a piece of paper in a trembling hand. Her voice swelled and echoed around the packed church.

Then a low hum of other voices gently singing, the bass undertone of male voices lending quiet support. When she faltered slightly and it seemed the occasion might become too much, the church soloist moved forward and provided a steadying arm. And Sarah sang, line after mesmerising line, until the final verse when the congregation joined in full voice until the emotional end.

They were still applauding as Sarah, in tears, embraced her grieving family and then resumed her seat in the front row.

It was a beautiful Mass. And if there can be such a thing, a beautiful funeral.

Little more than a week on from the awful fire which took 10 lives from two young Traveller families, the first five funerals took place in the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Bray.

Willy Lynch (25) and Tara Gilbert (27) were engaged to be married. Tara was expecting their third child when she died. Their daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4) also perished in the blaze. Willy’s brother Jimmy (39) was staying with them on that Sunday night, one of three siblings lost to the family.

Heartbreak goes on

The heartbreak goes on tomorrow when the funerals of 25-year-old Sylvia Connors (nee Lynch) her husband Thomas (27) and children Jim (5) Christy (2) and baby Mary, takes place in Wexford.

Just after midday in Bray, five hearses carried the remains of the Lynch family along the Main Street. Many shops had closed as a mark of respect.

The heavy caskets were shouldered into the church. Tara first, then the two white caskets for Jodie and Kelsey, followed by Willy and Jimmy.

Floral tributes were banked up inside the door, while more still rested on the marble steps of the altar. There was a floral teddy and a pink and white floral angel and two sparkly wreaths with little pink halos floating above them. Sparkly, like the two happy little girls in the framed photographs.

Members of the Travelling community crowded into the church, filling the gallery upstairs. More watched on screens in an overflow hall while a crowd listened outside as the Mass was relayed on speakers. But while this was very much a Travellers’ funeral, many friends and mourners from wider communities in Bray, Fassaroe and beyond paid their respects.

“The widespread instinctive outpouring of support for the families has been, and will continue to be so important,” said chief celebrant, Fr Derek Farrell, parish priest at the Parish of the Travelling Community. “There has been so much good done, and goodwill shown. The flowers, messages, books of condolences, prayer vigils, Masses, the wonderful Fassaroe neighbourhood street candles and altar, the shrines, the prayers, the songs.”

And perhaps in a muted reference to the controversy over the rehousing of those left bereft by the fire, he pointed to this outpouring of goodwill “in a context of often new close relationships and interactions between settled and Traveller, united in various forms of solidarity and prayer over the past week”. This unity “no more poignantly and particularly embodied than in the loving relationship of Tara as a young settled woman and Willy as a young Traveller man, and the family they together established so beautifully.”

Some of their younger cousins read a poem they composed. “Willie with his humour will teach angels how to dance; and Tara alway with him, now eternal their romance.”

Love of Elvis

And their uncle Jimmy, with his heart of gold and love of Elvis. All of them remembered with love and laughter and sorrow.

They remembered Amanda too – Tara’s twin sister. They shared everything, including clothes, earrings and hair extensions.

“There are no words. No words to take away the pain” said Fr Farrell. “No words to restore what has been lost. The only words we have are words of comfort, words of hopeful consolation and assurance that somehow, together, our society will resolve that some lasting goodwill will emerge.”

Tara’s favourite song was sung as the caskets were wheeled down the aisle, hands reaching out to touch them as they passed.

“Jealous of the Angels.”

It’s not my place to question

Only God knows why

I’m just jealous of the angels

Around the throne tonight.”

The sense of family was powerful on Tuesday. But while the catastrophic events of that Saturday night at a halting site in Dublin almost wiped out two families, the depth of feeling and support at the funeral Mass showed they have not been destroyed. The Lynches, Connors, Gilberts and their wider community of family and friends are there for each other, no matter what should happen in the days to come.