Jim and Eileen O’Neill choked back tears as Fr Sean Hanafin read out a thank you card Orlaith had written for them just days before her death on Monday.
“None of my words can make any sense here today,” Fr Hanafin told the hundreds of mourners packed into the Church of the Presentation in Derinagree, perched on a windswept hill in the heart of rural north Cork.
“However, I have words written by Orlaith. Like most children, she wrote notes and cards of love. This card, written last week, was so delicately created, adorned with hearts, balloons and kisses.
“It read: ‘To Mammy and Daddy. I love you so much. Even more, even more. Thanks for everything. Love you even more. Love from Orlaith O’Neill’.
“This card and her other notes are now such a treasure beyond price.”
“Words and symbols written by her own hand, of assurance of love from Orlaith, a card of great comfort and consolation.
“Nothing will or could ever quench her love for you.”
Orlaith, a pupil in senior infants in Rockchapel NS, died on Monday when the car her mother, Eileen, was driving was involved in a minor collision with another car in Newmarket, Co Cork.
Gardaí are investigating the cause of the accident but it is understood Orlaith suffered fatal head injuries when she was struck by an airbag.
Eileen and her husband Jim were drenched by a rain shower as they carried their daughter’s remains in a little white coffin into the church yesterday.
Dull clouds hung low over the rolling hills of Derinagree. A cold, sharp wind whipped through a stand of gnarled bare trees alongside the church.
Men in caps, weathered by the elements, stood on the sweeping path outside and wiped their eyes. Mothers with tears streaming down their faces held their children tight.
Bewildered youngsters with a sense of disbelief in their eyes looked on as Eileen and Jim placed their daughter’s coffin at the foot of the altar, where five years earlier they celebrated Orlaith’s baptism.
The silence was broken only by the sounds of weeping mourners as Orlaith’s sisters Marie, Michelle and Sinéad, placed a hair band, a photo of Orlaith and her baptismal candle alongside her coffin. Her grieving grandmother, Mary, looked on supported by her family, as Orlaith’s school mates from Rockchapel sang.
In his homily, Fr Hanafin said Orlaith loved butterflies.
As the remains lay in repose in her bedroom in the family home in Killetra, a butterfly fluttered through an open window to be with her, he said.
“Orlaith had a very inquisitive mind for a five-year-old — a mind way beyond her years.
“She had been accepted to Dublin City University for a course for gifted children. The course is for six year olds and beyond. Orlaith was accepted at five and was due to start when she reached her sixth birthday.
“Her quest for knowledge was never-ending — she loved reading and learning. She had a globe and when a county was mentioned on the news she would find it on the globe and then go to another source to find the flag of that country.
“Yet as Eileen mentioned, it wasn’t to be, she was meant for heaven, to be with her granddad, who was her godfather and who stood for her at her baptism.
“He can now fulfil those promises he made with Jim and Eileen.”
The sun shone down on the white coffin as Jim and Eileen carried their daughter’s remains from the church through a guard of honour formed by Orlaith’s school friends.
Orlaith was finally laid to rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Millstreet.