Lifford came to a standstill today as the community said a final goodbye to tragic hit-and-run victim Laura Connolly.
The 34-year-old mother-of-one was killed in the early hours of Sunday morning last as she returned from a night out with friends.
Just hours earlier she had been shopping for her wedding dress as she prepared to wed long-term partner Joe McCullagh next year.
Hundreds of people gathered outside Laura’s home at Croaghan Heights and walked with the funeral cortege to St Patrick’s Church in Murlog.
Several floral tributes including one which simply said ‘Mammy’ were placed inside the funeral hearse.
A guard of honour of men wearing white shirts and black ties accompanied the hearse along the distance of approximately one mile to the church.
A lone piper led the funeral cortege to the doors of St Patrick’s as the community stood outside the church in unity and in respect for the current Covid guidelines.
Among the mourners was Laura’s fiancee Joe McCullagh and the couple’s teenage son Jamie.
Her mum and dad Rosemary and Jimmy as well as brother James, grandmother Theresa Connolly and aunts and uncles also said a final goodbye to the young woman who had brought them so much joy.
Inside the church, Fr Colm O’Doherty recalled the “terrible tragedy” that had happened last Sunday just as the light of dawn was coming into the sky.
“The news brought disbelief, shock, despair, anger, awful grief, terrible sadness and a real sense of bewilderment not just throughout the community at large but especially to her loving family for whom these past few days must have seemed like an unreal nightmare.”
Fr O’Doherty said the question he has been asked most in recent days is how people are going to cope with Laura’s loss, someone who was loved so much.
He said the same was asked by the friends of Jesus when he was put to death on the Hill of Calvary.
“This morning we as a people of faith, as a family are broken-hearted but are still able to gather in this place of prayer today to put our trust in the hope of new life for Laura, our sister in the faith with the risen Lord himself.”
He added that he has also been constantly asked what people should say at a time like this.
He said at a time like this there are no spoken words which can properly ease the hearts and minds of those who are grieving.
Instead, a community and a family the community of Lifford and Donegal use a language of love he added.
“Tremendous solidarity and kindness have been shown by so many good neighbours and friends who have brought the grace of the community spirit of this parish to the sad homes of Laura’s family.
“Your presence alone has been so important in so many ways,” he said.
He said there have been many lighter moments in the dark recent days as friends and family told stories of the fun-loving and bubbly girl that Laura was and her “zest for life.”
And he remembered how next year was going to be Laura and Joe’s big day.
“Next year was going to be THE year. The date is in the diary here in the church. Laura and Joe would become Mr and Mrs. The wedding dress was even being looked for that day she was to die.
“These are lovely memories to have, to share and to keep sharing in the future but our lasting hope, our ultimate glimpse of life in these dark days of mourning has to be our faith in the Risen Jesus.”
He added: “We pray in particular that the gifts of joy, of goodness, kindness and especially the gift of love that Laura brought to your lives will help you never to forget such a special person and always be thankful for the gift of life she gave.”
Prayers of intercession were then said for Laura by friends and family.
One such prayer asked for comfort for Laura’s friends who were with her on her final night and for the emergency services who attended the scene.
Another remembered her cheeky grin, hr big laugh, the slagging and the scoffing and asked “who will have us dancing on the tables now?”
Before leading Laura to her final resting place in the adjoining cemetery, Fr O’Doherty said her favourite song ‘Butterfly Kisses’ would be sung.
The poignant lyrics of the song gave all those a reminder of the full tragedy of last weekend and how Laura will never get the chance to walk down the aisle.
“Walk me down the aisle, Daddy – it’s about time. Does my wedding gown look pretty, Daddy? Daddy, don’t cry.”
For those touched by the bubbly and cheeky young woman whose life was cut all too short, it was impossible not to shed a tear.