Pain, loss, grief and heartbreak in the shadow of the Blackstairs

Chada brothers laid to rest in Carlow

Kathleen Chada, mother of Eoghan (10) and Ruairí (5) is comforted during the funeral cortege to St Lazieran’s Church, Ballinkillen, Co Carlow, yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Kathleen Chada, mother of Eoghan (10) and Ruairí (5) is comforted during the funeral cortege to St Lazieran’s Church, Ballinkillen, Co Carlow, yesterday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Slowly down the gentle slope, along by the hurling pitches and around the corner to the GAA club. Past the postbox, then to the sweet shop and after that is school. The little church is just next door. Our Lady’s grotto across the road. A dot on the map. A blur in a moving car – a lifetime of landmarks for two small boys in a rural Irish village.

Eoghan (10) and Ruairí (5) Chada made that trip countless times in their young lives. Yesterday, the whole of Ballinkillen turned out to be with them as their bodies were brought down the little road for the last time.

That familiar route from their home on the hill down to the places where they played. What was a short walk for the bereft adults was an entire world to these two boys.

The sight of the two white coffins was almost too much to bear. Their school pals lined the final stretch of the way, wide- eyed and silent. Some of them looked so little in their school uniforms, holding their parents’ hands as the hearses passed.

Two hours earlier, in another part of the country, Eoghan and Ruairí’s father was appearing in court again. He is charged with their murder. The boys were found dead in the boot of his crashed car in Mayo last Monday, miles away from their Carlow home.

It is a tragedy almost beyond comprehension. Details of the deaths of the schoolboys have shocked the nation, but for the people of Ballinkillen, the sense of loss is unbearably acute.

As Kathleen and Sanjeev Chada’s boys were laid to rest in the graveyard by the little church, the adults stood together and pulled together, trying, somehow, to make sense of it all.

They were a community in mourning yesterday, but catapulted unwillingly into the glare of national attention, when all they wanted to do was comfort their grieving neighbours and make it better for their own children.

Great sadness
“We are gathered in great sadness today and we acknowledge the deep wounds of grief being carried by the Chada and Murphy families, and indeed, the grief of the wider community,” said parish priest Fr Declan Foley, beginning the requiem Mass.

The old church – its tiny inside – was packed. Mourners spilled outside into the graveyard. The stewards in their high-vis jackets were everywhere, making sure that the privacy of the relatives wasn’t breached.

They directed traffic to the village, assisted with parking at the GAA club, kept a watchful eye. You could see the men wanted to do something – just to be doing something, if it might help.

The service was relayed outside on a public address system. The older men leaned against the churchyard wall, heads bowed. The younger men draped their GAA jerseys around their shoulders.

Eoghan and Ruairí were mad into their hurling. They were into lots of things, which is the way it should be.

Symbols of their lives were brought to the altar by school friends. A hurley and a ball, a golf club, a bicycle (Ruairí had just started cycling without stabilisers), photographs, a cookbook and a toy tractor.

Their maternal grandparents have a farm and they loved mucking around on it. Eoghan bought a share of a calf with his Communion money. Ruairí – aiming high – had resolved to spend his Communion money on a combine harvester. You could imagine these two lads in their element at the ploughing championships, kicking the wheels on the hay balers and listening to the hurling talk.

Full lives
So much was said about their short lives – lives lived to the full. The sort of thing that should be said about adults who have lived long and full lives, not children whose short lives are just full of everything.

There was an upbeat tempo to the Mass, for the children. The grown-ups were conscious of the boys and girls seated in the church and anxious to give some reassurance.

“They loved their Mam and Dad deeply. It is important to emphasise that,” Fr Foley said.

There were songs sung by the parish choir and the children. “This little light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine”, they sang, to the numbed adults trying to contain their sorrow.

Kathleen Chada walked, head down, behind her two beautiful sons’ white coffins, supported by family members. When the funeral cortege passed the media position, the stewards stepped forward and put up umbrellas, moving in around Eoghan and Ruairí’s mother.

The funeral bell tolled once more after the service and the GAA and soccer players from three local clubs moved to form a guard of honour at the graveside. Before the coffins were carried outside, Fr Foley acknowledged the grief and concern of the community for the family and said he understood that everyone would want to express their condolences and support, “but maybe it’s not the time to do it today”.

The brothers were buried next to the school in the old graveyard under the Blackstairs Mountains. “May the angels lead them to paradise,” the priest prayed. At the very end, a bunch of brightly coloured balloons drifted skywards from the church and floated away from the landmarks of two small boys’ lives, disappearing forever into the clouds above Carlow.