The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, paid a deeply moving tribute to his “little princess” Léana yesterday before he and his family carried her remains from their local church for burial.
“Léana was stoic and brave. She was a great fighter and the last three weeks bore testimony to that,” the heartbroken father said.
“She never complained. She loved life dearly and didn’t want to let go. We have cried many tears, more tears that we ever thought possible for people to cry. Léana was the beautiful light in our lives.
“We are in deep shock at her death. We didn’t expect it. As a family, we are heartbroken and will miss this beautiful life in our lives. The days, weeks, months and years ahead will be difficult. But on the other hand, we will also reflect on Léana’s wonderful life, how busy and fulfilling it was.
“I hope and pray that the beautiful happy moments we had with Léana will sustain us in the years ahead and that we will learn to live with Léana’s spirit by our side.”
Léana, who was playing with her friends just three weeks ago, had a cardiac condition and died in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital last Friday. She was seven years old.
Mr Martin and his wife Mary, and their children, Micheál Aodh, 16, Aoibhe, 14, and Cillian, 10, led mourners at a Mass of the Angels at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Ballinlough, Cork – the same church where Léana was baptised – to say goodbye, and to celebrate her short life.
Framed photographs of their cherished little girl, one of her beaming proudly in her school uniform, another of her helping her parents to cast a vote, were placed on the altar. To one side, stood three large framed collages of joyous family occasion.
Léana’s big sister, Aoibhe, read a special introduction before chief celebrant, Canon Jim O’Donovan told mourners that Léana had blessed the world with her presence before special gifts were carried to the altar to symbolise her passions.
Her brother, Cillian, carried a Cork GAA jersey to symbolise her love of sport.
Fr James McSweeney said Léana was so excited when on September 29, members of the Cork senior football team brought the Sam Maguire to her school.
Alison Crotty carried a photo album with holiday snaps and photos of Mr Martin’s 50th birthday celebration – when Léana suggested a barbecue – and Brian O’Mahony carried a Horrid Henry book to symbolise her love of reading.
Liam O’Mahony carried her school bag, and Emily Crotty carried her pet dog Setanta’s lead. Setanta, a small white Bichon Frise, was Léana’s pride and joy.
Julie Nunan carried a Jedward T-shirt. Léana was a huge fan and played their hit, Under Pressure over and over.
Fr McSweeney described Léana as “a special and precious treasure” and compared her to a rainbow, a fireworks display, and a sunset which people wish would last forever.
“We wanted her with us always, but sadly it wasn’t to be,” he said.
“She taught us all about simplicity, how to smile, and how to appreciate a smile, and about the importance of the present.
“She wasn’t worried about yesterday, she wasn’t worried about tomorrow. She lived in the present moment and that present moment was all about love.” He then addressed each of the grieving Martin family, describing Micheál Aodh as Léana’s “big gentle giant,” of how Léana loved “heart hugs” with Aoibhe, and of how Cillian should treasure their holiday memories.
He told Léana’s shattered parents, who buried another child, Ruairí, in 1999, that the whole community is heartbroken for them.
“You are wonderful parents. There are no words today,” he said.
Our Lady of Lourdes primary school choir sang during the Mass and soprano Mary Hegarty performed a deeply emotional version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, before Mr Martin addressed mourners.
He recounted his beloved daughter’s love of playing with children in their estate, of how she marvelled at the snow of last winter, and of her love for school where she “simply blossomed”.
His voice cracked with emotion as he spoke of her love of Courtmacsherry, where the family often holiday.
He spoke of their bike rides when she would press her little hands against the small of his back, of his walks with her in the woods, of feeding the ducks in Timoleague, of how she delighted in stopping for hot chocolate with her mother in the local ice cream parlour, and of how the family celebrated her participation in a local sports day race like she had won the Olympics.
He described the love between Mary and Léana as a “beautiful unconditional love to witness”.
The minister said his family deeply appreciates the many messages of support and sympathy they have received.
And he thanked the staff at Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin, particularly cardiologist Paul Ozlizlok, surgeon Mark Redmond, the nurses in St Bridget’s ward, and the staff at Great Ormond Street Hospital, including Dr Phil Reess and Dr Alan Goldman, who had all helped make his family’s last hours with Léana so special.
“We held her in our collective arms the moments before she died and that is a time we will keep with us,” he said.
Léana was laid to rest in St Finbarr’s cemetery.
The Taoiseach and opposition leaders extended their sympathies to Mr Martin and his family in the Dáil yesterday.
Brian Cowen said everyone had “great sympathy” with the family on the death of Léana.
“They have our prayers, support and solidarity.”