The murdered teacher’s remains were brought to her mum and dad Mickey and Marian’s home in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone where hundreds of people began calling to pay their respects after 10am yesterday morning.
Large electronic roadside signs warned motorists to slow down outside the Co Tyrone country village as people came from the four corners of Ireland to give something back to a family who has given so much to the GAA and their local community.
Men in luminous jackets stood at the entrance to the Glencull Road leading to the Harte family home to keep the media at an acceptable length.
But there was no fear of Michaela’s wake turning into a circus.
People who had come to express sympathy with Mickey, Marian, their three sons and Michaela’s heartbroken husband John McAreavey were ferried to the Harte family home by three park and ride buses to and from different locations.
One of those locations was outside St.Malachey’s Church in nearby Ballymacilroy where John and Michael swapped wedding vows a little more than two weeks ago on December 30th.
A marquee has already been erected in the grounds leading to the church to cope with the hundreds, if not thousands of mourners expected here on Monday morning for Michaela’s mass.
In the grounds of the Harte family home yesterday stood two more marquees to cater for the overflow of people coming form the house.
Locals including many members of Mickey Harte’s own club, Errigal Ciaran, acted as marshalls to ensure the wake ran smoothly and nobody felt left out.
Mickey Harte had instructed members of the Tyrone County Board to make sure the general public knew that his house was open so he could be surrounded by family and friends at this most difficult of times.
At the door of the family’s home, two attendants kept the rain off mourners by holding umbrellas as Mickey’s brother Martin welcomed people to the sombre home.
At the bottom of the red-carpeted stairs, mourners were asked to take it in turns to go and say goodbye to Michaela one last time.
In the back bedroom of the family home, dimmed by slight darkness, the tragic young teacher was laid out in her wedding dress with her Pioneer Association medal pinned proudly to her chest.
In her hands she clutched a handwritten note with the words “To my precious love…..”
Her husband John stood in the room dressed in his wedding trousers and shirt and holding a pair of rosary beads.
The tall accountant tried to force a smile as people sympathised with him.
Just outside on the landing, a collage of framed pictures was hung on the wall in a glass frame.
One showed ‘Daddy’s girl’ Michaela sitting on Mickey’s lap and another was a group shot at Croke Park which included former Dublin GAA great Charlie Redmond and Michaela.
Mourners left through the back door past the kitchen where at least eight women prepared tea, sandwiches and cakes.
Back out in the marquee erected on the family’s front line, chairs were laid out in rows as another half dozen women provided tea, coffee, sandwiches and cakes for weary mourners.
The rain battered the outside of the marquees as people tried to make sense of such a tragic loss of young life.
Condolence books were passed around and were respectfully signed as local accents filled the air with accents from as far away as Cork and Kerry.
Those who sat and recalled stories of Michaela included GAA legends of today and yesterday including the great Kerry star Eoin ‘The Bomber’ Liston as well as more modern players including Donegal’s All Star Kevin Cassidy.
One local woman, who herself lost a child at an early age, said she could only imagine what Mickey and Marian are going through.
“It is bad enough to lose a child through illness as I did. But to have a child taken from you in this manner is just the worst thing that can happen to any parent.
“My heart is bleeding for them and to see Michaela in that coffin in there really does make you want to ask ‘is there a God at all?’ You have to ask yourself why he allowed this to happen to such a nice family.
“But out hearts and our prayers are with them. That’s all we can offer them now – our support. There will be many lonely days ahead when all the crowds leave but the community here in Ballygawley and throughout Tyrone will never abandon them,” she said.