Olivia Burke’s family and friends say a tearful farewell

Hozier sings a song for Berkeley balcony victim as her friends form circle of honour

The Tricolour and the Stars and Stripes flew at half mast in a gentle breeze outside the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Succour, Foxrock. Close by, a vibrant maple tree, planted this week in memory of the young lives lost and changed forever 8,000 kilometres away in Berkeley, was wreathed in hundreds of yellow, green and white ribbons, each inscribed with messages of hope and solace.

An hour before the funeral service for Olivia Burke, large groups of young women and men, many dressed in black, streamed silently into the church where, 21 years ago, Olivia was carried for her baptism, the same church into which her silver, rose-embellished coffin would soon be carried by her parents, Paula and Paul, her brother Gavin, family members and friends.

The Berkeley tragedy has particular resonance in this south city enclave. Three of the young victims came from here. Olivia, Eimear Walsh and Aoife Beary – who remains critically ill in San Francisco – were close friends who shared the fourth floor apartment in the Library Gardens complex on Berkeley's Kittredge Street. Many of those present for Olivia's funeral had also attended the service for Eimear the day before.

Chief mourners

The chief mourners walking behind Olivia’s coffin to the altar included the parents and family members of


Ashley Donohoe

, Olivia’s Irish-American cousin, who also died in Berkeley.

There were muffled sobs as symbols of Olivia's life were carried to the altar. A throw, given to her as a 21st birthday present, printed with photographs from her life; a picture of Olivia with Skipper, her beloved King Charles spaniel; a school journal from her days in nearby Loreto College; and a handbag representing her love of fashion – "not any old bag. It's a Ted Baker bag," said Fr Frank Herron, adding, to rare laughter, "though it's a bit lost on me. I heard of Ma Baker once . . ."

The Burke and Donohoe families played key roles in the service. Paula, Olivia's mother and George Donohoe, Ashley's father, brought up the gifts. Amanda, Ashley's teenage sister, presented a symbol. The readers included Olivia's godmother, Ciara Donohoe. She and the second reader, Emma Williams, a Loreto classmate of Olivia, talked of hope.

Like other parents in this multiple tragedy, Paul Burke somehow steeled himself to rise and speak to the vast congregation about his only daughter. He had done this twice in recent years for two people he deeply loved, his father and mother, but this was different. They were two people who had lived a full life.

“But it is a challenge to stand here. No parent wishes to see a child depart this life at such a tender age, not being able to experience all those places where Olivia’s journey in life would have taken her, be it in her career, her friendships, her loves.”

He began by thanking Philip Grant of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the counsellors who played "a pivotal role" in supporting them and the "wide group of students caught up in this terrible tragedy" in San Francisco.

He also thanked members of the clergy in the US. But they were here, he said, to celebrate Olivia's life. She had already packed a lot into her "short 21 years", the shy girl, who had emerged from Scoil Mhuire in Sandymount and Loreto College Foxrock as a well-grounded, confident person, with an admirable work ethic and a steely determination to succeed. She had also gathered groups of great, close-knit friends and "loved a laugh and joke . . . and the night life, especially a boogie on the dance floor".

Big adventures

She was enjoying her entrepreneurship and management degree studies in Dún Laoghaire IADT, and she had had big adventures abroad in these college years.

A few of them had travelled to Vancouver after first year, he said, and after the second, took the Thailand-Vietnam route – “a trip all parents dread but they all came home in pretty good nick. Then some of you set fair on the 24th of May this year for the obligatory J-1 to the US of A. I know you girls are hurting after the loss of two of your group. I’m sure Olivia and Eimear are smiling down on you and wishing you luck.”

As he spoke, young women wept. “Olivia Burke, our darling, may you rest in peace.”

In his homily, Fr Herron, the parish administrator, talked of a community that had been “galvanised by Olivia and her friends in a way we wouldn’t have thought possible a week ago”.

The music included deeply moving renditions of Fields of Gold and Billy Joel’s Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel).

At the end, there was Hozier from Wicklow, singing Work Song for Olivia, who was a big Hozier fan, as her coffin was carried from the church.

As he sang, some 50 young women from Loreto College and IADT left their seats and formed a circle of honour outside, as the Burkes emerged.

The family stood for over an hour, dignified and welcoming, to accept the condolences of hundreds, including Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, the American Ambassador to Ireland, Kevin O'Malley, and representatives of the President and the Taoiseach.

Then the family embarked on a final journey with their beloved child, for burial in Dean’s Grange cemetery.

Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan

Kathy Sheridan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column