Guard of honour for Charleville’s lost sons

At the top of the steps that led to Holy Cross Church in Charleville, a brown pony stood as still and as motionless as the small green and red barrel wagon with yellow wheels that was tied behind it.

Guard of honour for Charleville’s lost sons

The wooden wagon, bought for Paddy and Thomas O’Driscoll on the day they died, was covered with their pictures.

The boys lay inside the church, in white coffins at the top of the aisle, along with their brother Jonathan.

Charleville curate, Fr Tom Naughton, a constant source of support to Helen and Thomas O’Driscoll since everything changed last Thursday, spoke warmly about the boys and their brother. He recalled two “loveable rogues” who were proud of their special achievement awards in school and their eldest brother, who provided his parents with “the happiest day of their lives” when he came into their world.

“Jonathan made the whole family happy. He was there when you needed him and could pop up at any stage. He loved all his godchildren and never forgot their birthdays.

“He’d go up to Dunnes and buy little outfits as birthday presents. All three boys went hunting together. They were loveable and full of fun. They loved their football, hurling, and boxing and Jonathan often took them to Doneraile Park to play. It was their favourite place,” he said.

Ellie Goulding’s ‘How Long Will I Love You’, one of the boys’ favourite songs, played. Their sister, Bernadette, spoke eloquently of how God will be waiting for her brothers at the gates of heaven.

Outside the church, a truck carried floral tributes that read “Our son Jonathan” and “Our boys Tom Tom and Paddy”.

After the service, the twins were parted from their older brother. The boys were to be buried in Charleville; Jonathan with his maternal grandparents in nearby Kilmallock.

The twins’ coffins, carried shoulder-high and draped with two pairs of boxing gloves, followed the wagon through a town that came to a standstill.

Slowly but steadily the procession poured through the town’s main street. As it progressed through a valley of shuttered windows and closed doors, Charleville formed a guard of honour for their lost sons.

As Paddy and Thomas were carried through the town side by side, another set of twin brothers, identical blonds in matching striped jumpers, were carried on shoulders just yards behind them. The brilliant sunshine reflected so brightly on their hair that their heads were nearly as white as the pristine small coffins they followed.

In all it took the best part of an hour for the cortège to make its way from the church on the north side of the town to the graveyard on the south side. The procession paused only to change the coffin-bearers, the boy’s mother, Helen, showing remarkable strength and composure in co-ordinating proceedings and ensuring that all members of the family, both close and extended, were given the honour of carrying Paddy and Thomas to their final resting place.

Four white doves released from the graveside darted, weaved, and bobbed into the distance as the prayers concluded and the family and those there to support them returned to the church to begin another funeral procession.

Dozens of bouquets and arrangements were left behind, including a replica of a green and red barrel wagon with yellow wheels.

Final letter from a sister

Bernadette O’Driscoll’s letter to brothers Thomas, Paddy, and Jonathan:

“To my three brothers, Jonathan, Paddy and Tom Tom, your memories of laughter that we shared together as a family growing up together I will treasure for the rest of my life.

“I will always love you and I will always miss you. Forever, our family hearts is broken.

Also, from our hearts, we say a fond farewell to the three of ye.

“God will be waiting at the gates of heaven to take ye in.

The whole world is in pain today at the loss of our family.

We all miss ye so much.

God give us the strength to cope today and day by day.”

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