Locals say sad farewell to much-loved couple

A POPULAR couple that spent their lives together and died together were, yesterday, laid to rest side by side, amid emotional scenes.

A priest spoke of the deep love Johnny O’Connell, 46, and his wife, Mary (nee Murphy), 45, had for each other and of how one couldn’t bear to live without the other.

Even the bright May sun that beamed down on Caherciveen, Co Kerry, failed to hide the gloom that hung over the town, following the loss of two well-respected people.

They were killed instantly after being knocked down by a car during a holiday near Alicante, in Spain, last week. The Spanish driver tested positive for alcohol at the scene and is expected to be charged with reckless homicide.

When the couple’s remains were returned home earlier this week, about 50 cars were in the cortege from Cork Airport to Caherciveen and more than 100 mourners were on the streets when the hearses arrived at about 3am.

The O’Connell Memorial Church was full for the funeral mass, yesterday, with upwards of 1,000 people bidding a sad farewell to a couple that had been involved in many community activities.

Nine priests concelebrated mass. Chief concelebrant Canon Billy Crean said the sudden deaths “stopped us in our tracks and moved us to reflect on so much we take for granted”.

In a homily, Fr Niall Howard, who had recently celebrated a mass to mark the couple’s 25th wedding anniversary, said the community had tried to come to terms with the terrible devastation.

But he also referred to the “utter beauty” of the inseparable couple being taken together.

“Can you imagine one being at home without the other,” he asked.

Recalling the March anniversary celebrations, Fr Howard remarked: “When we witnessed the renewal of their vows little did we think the renewal would only last a few weeks.”

The couple’s love, he said, was not for just themselves — they reached out and gave their time and resources to the whole community and many groups.

“In the midst of their sharing, they had no children and a parish full of children at the same time,” he told the hushed congregation.

Many mourners were moved to tears during the service, with soloist Marian O’Neill giving a touching rendition of hymns such as Be Not Afraid and Flowers of the Rarest.

Gifts handed up to symbolise the couple’s lives included wedding photographs, a photograph of their home, a toy van to mark Johnny’s work with children and his job as a bus driver and a photograph of Mary, who worked in a Caherciveen supermarket, kicking football as a child in Portmagee.

Among the chief mourners was Johnny O’Connell’s 85-year-old mother, Mary.

The couple, who are also survived by brothers and sisters, were laid to rest in Reilig Chill Fhaoláin, outside Caherciveen.


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