Aoife Beary did not allow Berkeley balcony collapse to define her, funeral told

Uncle says 27-year-old insisted on ‘living life well’ after tragedy and that she ‘definitely achieved this’

Aoife Beary "insisted on living life well" after surviving the Berkeley balcony collapse in summer of 2015 in which six of her friends were killed, her funeral Mass heard on Friday.

James O'Doherty, her uncle and godfather, told mourners she had wanted to live a full life on behalf of those killed in the tragedy - Lorcán Miller, Eimear Walsh, Niccolai Schuster, Eoghan Culligan, Olivia Burke and Ashley Donohoe.

He said that “in the short six years” since the incident Ms Beary had “definitely achieved this”.

The 27-year-old, from Blackrock, Dublin, died on New Year's Day at Beaumont Hospital following a stroke. She was one of seven students who survived the balcony collapse on June 16th 2015, at the Library Gardens apartments in Berkeley, California.


Ms Beary suffered a serious brain injury and was left with multiple injuries including broken bones and organ lacerations and received treatment and rehabilitation at hospitals in California and Dublin in the months after the accident.

The former UCD pharmacology student had been in the US on a J-1 visa with friends and they were celebrating her 21st birthday on the night of the incident.


In the years after, Ms Beary campaigned for tighter building regulations in California and, in 2016, she testified before the state legislature there while it was hearing submissions on stricter building-standards legislation. In recent years, she studied occupational therapy at Oxford Brookes University in England.

Young people made up the majority of mourners at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock, who were led by Ms Beary's parents Angela and Mike, and younger siblings Tim and Anna. President Michael D. Higgins was represented by his aide-de-camp, Col Stephen Howard.

Dozens of mourners who were unable to go inside due to Covid-19 social distancing rules stood under grey skies and in snow and sleet flurries for the hour-long service. Over consecutive days in June 2015, the funerals of Ms Walsh and Ms Burke took place at the same church.

Addressing “dear Aoife”, Mr O’Doherty said: “Your battle is at an end. You fought such a good fight. The burden of your injuries and the burden of dealing with them didn’t leave a lot of space for joy in living but you insisted on living life well.

“You insisted on a life full of meaning and purpose. It was grounded in your ability to connect with people - the strong friendships you built from a very early age.”

He continued: “She did insist on living life well and that showed especially in her response to the accident. She continued to build on all her innate abilities. She didn’t let the accident define her or become a victim.

“Aoife achieved her degree in pharmacology before Berkeley and was well in her way to achieving her occupational therapy degree following Berkeley.”

‘Total surprise’

Chief celebrant Fr Kieran Dunne, describing Ms Beary as a "beautiful young woman", said her death "just crushes us with total surprise, deep grief and a sense of hopelessness. He said it had removed " the object of so much tender nurture and careful love" from her parents.

She was “a person of remarkable gift and talent, a woman who faced the very depth of loss of many friends and personal injury to herself and others; a person who embraced life and its possibilities again, finding especially new growth and life in her friendships and in her study in Oxford Brookes”.

Family friend Nessa O'Mahony read poems - her own titled A Poppy for Aoife written in summer 2015, and Begin by Brendan Kennelly.

The latter, she said, was about the need to keep going “despite everything”, an approach which she said had been epitomised by Ms Beary.

“Though we live in a world that dreams of ending/ that always seems about to give in/ something that will not acknowledge conclusion/ insists that we forever begin,” the poem reads.

Among the songs played were On Eagles’ Wings, You Raise Me Up, and Ag Críost an Síol. As Ms Beary’s wicker casket was cradled into the hearse by friends and family, the recessional music was Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Ms Beary’s remains were taken for cremation after the Mass, which heard that her organs had been donated.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times