Omagh Aftermath: A terrible beauty as the bodies are buried and Ulster prays for peace

David McKittrick witnesses the first funeral for victims of the bomb
Click to follow
THE CHURCHYARD where they yesterday buried Avril Monaghan, her daughter Maura and her unborn twins, in the first of the Omagh funerals, must be one of the most beautiful in all of Ireland.

The stone wall surrounding it does not block the view: the graves are beside St McCartan's church on a gentle slope on a little hill. It overlooks verdant Tyrone countryside, grass, trees and hedges lush from the year's rain rolling into the distance, as peaceful and restful a sight as you could hope to see.

The burials followed a simple soothing Catholic country ceremony conducted mainly by Avril's uncle, Father James Grimes. The business of burials is just beginning, for the funerals of the other 26 victims of the bomb will follow this week.

Avril's mother, Mary Grimes, who was 65, will be buried today, as will at least four other people. Avril was 30 years old; her daughter Maura was aged 18 months; her twin girls were due to be born in two months. Her surviving children are aged six, five and three.

Her husband Michael must have thought the next major event he would be attending in St McCartan's would be the christening of his baby twin daughters. Instead, he yesterday found himself burying them, together with their mother and their sister. Today he buries his mother-in-law.

The two coffins were brought from the handsome bungalow which Michael, a builder, had built for Avril and the children. One of Michael's old teachers described him as a fine fellow, a hardworking man. He walked behind the coffins with his three children, none of whom understood the significance of the day.

Avril was conveyed in a standard casket, sturdy countrymen shouldering the burden, but Maura was in a small white coffin signifying her tender years and her innocence. Too small to be carried by four men, too slight to be hoisted on shoulders, it was carried awkwardly at waist level by two relatives.

St McCartan's, a simple solid country church on a hill outside the village of Augher, was full when the coffins arrived. More neighbours, friends and sympathisers stood in the grounds and along the little road. With 28 in all killed nearby in Omagh, it was for some just the first of many funerals they will attend.

Inside, Father Grimes held his own grief in check as he tried to give solace to Michael and the rest of the bereaved. He said: "That terrible explosion in Omagh on Saturday has shattered not only our families, but many other families throughout the country. The reason for it we cannot explain.

"We must try and pray for forgiveness for those who carried out that most awful act of murder in Omagh. We ask the Lord to forgive ... to change their hearts and that this may be the last of the terrible agonies our people have suffered during the last 30 years."

The congregation went through the comforting rituals, reciting the Lord's prayer in Irish, filing up to take communion, and praying "Grant us peace in our day".

The Bishop of Clogher, Dr Joseph Duffy, said people must exorcise the evil behind the bomb, declaring: "We must all of us again honestly face the perverse insanity and deep-seated and deep-rooted nature of the evil that has caused all this suffering and pain."

But the phrase which most of the mourners will carry away with them was used by Father Grimes, who asked them to pray for Avril "as she takes her little angel with her to heaven". This echoed what the family had already said about Maura, describing her as "just a beautiful, curly-haired angel who was loved by everyone".

Then the coffins were carried out to the premature graves which had been prepared for Avril, Maura and the twins. After, mourners stood together, generating a murmur of quiet respectful conversation, before drifting quietly away.