“LET this be the last.”
The words of the priest at the final of the eight funerals in Inishowen this week spoke for everyone present.
After a week of almost unbearable heartache, some 2,000 mourners, many of whom had attended multiple requiem Masses in the previous days, gathered for one more time to say farewell to 23-year-old James McEleney who lost his life with seven others in last Sunday night’s devastating car crash.
Parish priest of Clonmany, Fr Fintan Diggin, who officiated at three of those funerals, could see the pain and exhaustion in the faces before him. “Hopefully these are the last such scenes of tragedy, that we will never experience them again. Let this be the last time such a tragedy befalls any community,” he said.
James was just a few hundred yards from home when the crash happened, the home where the ever industrious young man had painted the outside walls and filled the shed with turf just days before.
He worked for a guttering contractor but would turn his hand to anything to bring in an income and was noted for his enthusiasm even for turf gathering.
He was a homebird, the mourners heard, his only attempt at flying the nest being an attempted emigration to America from which he returned two weeks later after missing his family too much.
The family, his mum, Philomena, only sister Kathleen, and brothers, Shane, Robert and Philip, had known heartbreak before when they lost their other brother, Daniel, six years ago.
But they had also known happiness, as reflected in a photograph carried to the altar, of three generations of the family a year and a half ago at the christening of Kathleen’s twin girls.
James was one of their godfathers and took to the task with pride. Fr Diggan recalled the occasion and how he had remarked to James, all decked out in black shirt and trousers, that he was wearing as much black as the priest. James had quipped: “But that’s as far as it goes.”
He was a young man who adored socialising, his girlfriend, Lisa, and providing the craic at any gathering. In a tribute that prompted both tears and smiles, his uncle, Philly Ivors, said: “To us he was a proud and loving son, brother, nephew and uncle, a boyfriend with a heart of gold.”
A second photograph, of James enjoying a night out, was also brought to the altar along with his tool belt, a model of his work van and a CD of songs by local entertainer Mike Denver who counted James as one of his biggest fans. The singer sang Seven Spanish Angels for James, one of his favourites.
Fr Diggin repeated his prayer: “We would like our boys to grow into old age. We want our young people to have long, full, satisfying lives. But so sadly for us it is not so much their lives but their deaths that are influencing us now. We don’t want to see any more of that. We hope and pray that no more tragedy will befall any of our parish or community.”
Mr Ivors offered heartfelt thanks to the parish for all their support. He also offered condolences to the other families and to the family of Shaun Kelly, the driver on Sunday night who remains critically ill in hospital.
“We pray that Shaun makes a full recovery and wish to let him know our door is always open for support for both him and his family.”
No one could cope with the thought of having to say goodbye to another young man.
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