About 200 gardaí from across the country stood shoulder to shoulder with the heartbroken family of Garda Gary McLoughlin during an emotional service in his native Fenagh, Co Leitrim.
The 24-year-old died on Monday morning after a car smashed into him while on duty near Burt, Co Donegal, on the main Letterkenny to Derry road.
A full state funeral, attended by Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy and a number of other top brass from the force, took over the rural parish where he grew up.
Mourners who had packed into the little St Mary’s Church in Foxfield, around a mile from his family home, heard that tight-knit Fenagh had been torn apart by the tragedy.
The parish hall had to be opened next door to the church, with a live feed of the service piped in, to accommodate the large crowds that turned out.
Fr Bernard Hogan said the young garda’s death had come just a day after the entire community were celebrating another of its young men winning the world handball title.
“Then, on Sunday morning, the heart was ripped out of the community, by the news of Gary’s tragic accident and eventual death,” he said.
In a moving tribute, his brother Enda broke down as he joked about Gary’s passion for his Honda Integra car which he had polished up for the day and drove as part of the cortege in memory of him.
“I’m sure it still wouldn’t be good enough for Gary,” he smiled.
“Every weekend it was cleaned, polished, hoovered – like every car from the little [Peugeot] 306 at the start down to that one now.
“And when he came home at the weekend, he was some looking guard – with highlights in his hair, his scarf and he was done up to the last.
“But we all loved him, we all loved him.”
Girlfriend Shauna sobbed as she read a short poem which the late garda sent toher describing her as “my world, my life, my heart”.
Pupils from Ballinamore Post Primary School as well as members of the local Fenagh St Caillin’s GAA club, wearing white shirts and black armbands, lined the country road outside the church.
As the coffin arrived, garlanded by wreaths spelling Brother and Soul Mate, colleagues from Buncrana Garda Station formed a guard of honour.
A Tricolour and his Garda cap were placed on top.
Inside, an Arsenal FC jersey, a Honey Monster gift to his nieces and a symbol of his local GAA club were among the items placed beside the coffin, but most poignantly, was an unopened Christmas present meant for him.
Fr Hogan described Garda McLoughlin as a young, vivacious man who was doing his work, serving the state and protecting the vulnerable, when he was struck down.
“He was a young man, a good young man, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his family and country,” he said. “He represented what was best in Irish society – compassion, care, responsibility, service and a sense of national duty.
“He served the state with his life.”
The priest said the hearts of Garda McLoughlin’s father Noel, mother Una,brother Enda, sister Tracey and girlfriend Shauna, were shattered but they could take comfort in the good he had done during his short life.
Garda McLoughlin was buried 26 years to the day that another young recruit, Gary Sheehan, 23, died on duty during a shoot-out at nearby Ballinamore.
Before the coffin was marched out of the church for the burial, the young garda’s cousin Rachel McLoughlin brought tears to mourners with a rendition of the Sarah McLachlan song, Angel.
More than 120 gardaí from Donegal, Leitrim and Sligo, joined the mile-long cortege, led by the Garda band and Garda motorcycle outriders, as it snaked its way through the tree-canopied roads to Fenagh Abbey cemetery.
Among them were Bernard McLoughlin, dressed in black and on crutches, who was injured in the same crash that killed his colleague.
President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach Brian Cowen were represented by their aides de camp, while the defence forces, fire service and Police Service of Northern Ireland were also represented.