Theirs was the most public tragedy, and the most private grief.
What began almost six weeks ago as a happy family holiday in Malaysia ended at St Brigid’s church in South Belfast on Tuesday as Nóra Quoirin’s family, friends and neighbours bade farewell to the 15-year-old.
There was no coffin as Nóra’s remains had been cremated earlier during a private family ceremony. A small white box bearing her ashes was placed before the altar, and beside it, a photograph.
It was an image familiar to anyone who followed the coverage of her disappearance on the first day of the family holiday, the 10 day search, and then the discovery of her body. In the photo, Nóra is clearly happy and the bright pink of her coat and the yellow flowers behind her stand out, as if to emphasise the vibrancy of her character.
Her family - mother Meabh, father Sebastien, aunts and grandfather - have spoken repeatedly of what a special child she was. This was not simply because she had learning and developmental difficulties that made her vulnerable, but also precious.
“She, as we all know, depended greatly on others, but Nóra in turn, gifted others with immeasurable love and joy,” parish priest Fr Eddie O’Donnell told mourners at the service. “Before such an ability we can only feel gratitude.”
Yet as there was gratitude for her life, there were also questions.
“I ask myself,” Fr O’Donnell continued, “what is the meaning of this terrible pain that has been inflicted on Nóra’s family?”
The teenager’s unclothed body was found some 2.5km from the Dusun rainforest resort where the family was staying. Malaysian police said she probably died of starvation and stress after spending a week in the jungle, and a portmortem found no evidence of foul play.
Yet throughout the search, the Quoirin family continued to insist that Nóra must have been abducted and that she would not have wandered off alone.
“The initial postmortem results have given some information that help us to understand Nóra’s cause of death,” they said in a statement. “But our beautiful innocent girl died in extremely complex circumstances and we are hoping that soon we will have more answers to our many questions.”
St Brigid’s, located in a quiet, affluent part of Belfast, was where Nóra was baptised 15 years ago on what mourners heard was “a joy-filled afternoon”.
Though she, her younger brother and sister grew up in London, where the Franco-Irish family live, she would have been familiar with St Brigid’s as her mother is originally from Belfast and Nóra’s grandparents are parishioners there.
Inside the chapel grounds, the silence was overwhelming. There were few conversations or exchanges of pleasantries as mourners gathered before the Mass. When the funeral cars arrived, the family was shielded from public view.
It was unimaginable, one overheard conversation went, what the family must be going through. It was every parent’s worst nightmare. Another spoke of shock at what had happened, and told how Nóra’s aunts had been at school with his own children.
This was a community in mourning; of all those who packed into the church, only a handful were public figures - the Lord Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane, the former MP Dr Alistair McDonnell, and his SDLP colleague Claire Hanna MLA.
Instead the congregation was made up of family, friends, neighbours and parishioners.
If there are to be any answers, Fr O’Donnell told them, they are to be found in the conviction that “the bonds of love and affection which bind us together throughout our lives do not unravel with death”.
“My friends,” he said, “if we leave here today with a renewed conviction that in the end love bears all things, love conquers all things, then Nóra, this most special child, this most loved and loving child, has endowed us with an extraordinary parting gift.”