Earthquake victim laid to rest

An Irish father-of-two killed in the New Zealand earthquake was today remembered as a man of great compassion as he was laid to rest in his home soil.

An Irish father-of-two killed in the New Zealand earthquake was today remembered as a man of great compassion as he was laid to rest in his home soil.

Owen McKenna's final wish was to be buried where he was born and bred in Truagh, a quiet townland in the gentle, rolling hills of north Co Monaghan.

With the small Church of the Sacred Heart in Carrickroe packed out, speakers were erected outside to allow the overflow of mourners to hear the service.

Heartbreaking tributes to the psychiatric nurse, who was crushed to death in his car during last month's disaster in Christchurch, carried right across the countryside parish.

As a boy in Truagh, he was known to everybody whether as a member of the scouts, the local marching band, the Gaelic football club, the drama society or the Irish dancing school.

While he had worked in London and Saudi Arabia for many years before moving to New Zealand, he returned home regularly and came back to marry his wife Sarah in the same church 10 years ago.

A distraught Sarah and their two young children, Grace, six, and Tadhg, five, could not face the long journey back for the funeral, but watched on as it was broadcast live to absent family and friends on the internet.

Their home in Christchurch was known as an open house for Irish ex-patriates.

Drawings of teddy bears by his daughter and son replaced the flag of his local Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club Truagh Gaels over the coffin as it was lowered into the ground in the church graveyard.

His four sisters and three brothers, Bernadette, Maria, Kieran, Enda, Angela, Brendan and Catherine were among the pall-bearers.

Mr McKenna's mother Theresa - known as Teesie and whose home his remains were returned to late on Sunday night for a traditional Irish wake - was helped to the graveside.

Schoolchildren - including three of his nephews and a niece - formed a uniformed guard of honour in the warm spring sunshine along the cemetery pathway with members of the Truagh Gaels.

A poignant slideshow tribute of photos - of Mr McKenna's wedding, christenings and holidays with the children - set to one of his favourite Oasis tracks, Don't Look Back in Anger, brought many in the church to tears. There was laughter too, as family friend Fr John Skinnader remembered Mr McKenna's mischief and sense of fun.

The priest recalled how in the days of the heavily fortified British Army checkpoints at the nearby border with Northern Ireland, Mr McKenna would hang out of his late father's Austin Cambridge to announce the car's number plate on the way through.

"He would shout out Hotel, Bravo, India, 177. Over Charlie, over and out," he said.

"He was a young fella, full of life and ready for any devilment that came along."

Fr Skinnader also spoke of Mr McKenna's "rootedness" and how he was "one of our own" who went out into the world with a sense of adventure.

After leaving Monaghan, he trained as a nurse, looking after elderly, retired British soldiers, in London's Royal Hospital Chelsea.

He finished his qualifications in Guy's Hospital.

Recognised as an excellent nurse, he was also known for using his spare time to visit the homeless near Waterloo Station, to give them food and cigarettes and talk with them.

"He was a man of great compassion," said Fr Skinnader.

He was also a popular man.

Friends from Saudi Arabia, England, Wales and throughout Ireland met each other again for the first time in years as they added their last respects in a condolences book outside the church.

One said: "All I remember is laughing long and hard."

It was in Saudi Arabia, where Mr McKenna met his wife Sarah and where he founded a GAA team, the Jeddah Gaels, who wore the same black and red colours of his home team.

When his office was being cleared out after his death, a "to do" note on his desk included a reminder to pay his annual membership fees to his home club that he loved so much.

Gifts were brought to the altar to show his passions: a picture of Sarah, Grace, Tadhg and himself; a Truagh Gaels jersey; a cup commemorating the Guy's Hospital nursing ball in 1990; and a book about the heritage of the McKenna clan - a family name synonymous with the area.

Fr Skinnader turned to the words of poet, and fellow Monaghan man, Patrick Kavanagh to offer solace to the 1,000-strong congregation.

"I do not think of you lying in the wet clay of a Monaghan graveyard; I see you walking down a lane among the poplars, on your way to the station... O you are not lying in the wet clay, for it is harvest evening now and we are piling up the ricks against the moonlight.

"And you smile up at us - eternally."

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