Bride’s homecoming a picture of sadness on return to wedding scene

A FORTNIGHT ago the radiant bride was driven down the narrow lane from her family home in a wedding car. Last night she returned in a hearse.

Michaela Harte’s long journey from Mauritius back to her devastated parents Mickey and Marian in Co Tyrone ended when her coffin was carried into the house she had left in an elegant white gown.

Guests who kissed the young teacher outside St Malachy’s Church and wished her well for the future will soon be back at the idyllic chapel off the busy A5, only this time as mourners. President Mary McAleese will also be in attendance.

Weather-beaten homemade signs directing her wedding traffic, which provided such a heartrending image in the days after her murder, have now all been taken down.

In their stead, hundreds of people gathered on the roadside to pay their respects as the cortege rounded the Ballygawley roundabout and headed for home. It was doubtful if anyone was left in the nearby village.

There are few motorists in the north of Ireland who haven’t driven round the landmark that links the rural west to the rest of the province.

But for Michaela and Mickey Harte it had significance beyond a road junction.

This is where the father and his only daughter would have jumped on the bus with the rest of the Tyrone GAA team on their way down to Dublin’s Croke Park in search of Gaelic footballing glory.

And so many times they would return in joyous mood having found exactly that.

Footballers met there again on a cold January night to form a guard ofhonour as the girl they treated as a little sister passed by. Among them the former captain of Tyrone’s all-conquering All-Ireland champions Peter Canavan and goalkeeper John Devine.

They, like dozens of others, wore the colours of Mr Harte’s home club Errigal Ciaran.

One man who made a special effort to get to the roundabout was Eddie McGuigan, from the village of Benburb 27km away.

“I’m a cancer patient and going through a pretty bad time and I wouldn’t be fit for Monday’s funeral, to maybe walk a mile or stand wet in the rain, so the wife and me said we’d go up today and pass our respects on,” he said.

“Even if we only stood on the side of the road and blessed ourselves when the remains were going by, at least we’d done something.”

Like the Harte family, Mr McGuigan is a member of the devout Catholic Pioneer abstinence movement.

“The Hartes are such a respected family all over the countryside, being very, very honest, very, genuine people with their religion,” he said.

“It’s safe to say they wouldn’t know what bigotry was. I don’t think he will recover, I pray to God he does and comes out again. Those lads in the Tyrone team that he has been working with since 1997, they are a big happy family. This has wrecked that family.”

A fellow mourner encapsulated the thoughts in all of the bowed heads.

“It’s devastating to think that only 14 days ago she was getting married,” she said.

“She was such a good girl, a really decent girl, it’s just such a tragedy.”

Two miles up the A5 an army of GAA men flanked the junction with the Glencull Road that leads to the Harte house.

They wore the same high-visibility vests they sport when marshalling supporters at a big match.

But even in their worst nightmares this is one event none of them ever thought they’d have to steward.

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