independent

Saturday 21 September 2019

Genuine sadness over Michaela's tragic death

AIDAN O'CONNOR

AT A time like this, John, I wonder if words are of any use at all. Then again, I've often heard that it's people and their kind and supportive words that keep families going when all their world has been ripped asunder. Most of us could hardly get our heads around what has happened.

Only God knows how you, your family and Michaela's are finding the strength to cope. One thing's for sure: Michaela would have been proud of you in the way you carried your cross with such dignity and reverence. Last Sunday John, I was at a function where 100 people attended for a sit-down meal. It was informal and pleasant, and everybody was in good spirits, despite all that is going on around us.

That evening, Taoiseach Brian Cowen appeared on the two large screens that occupied opposite walls of the function room. About three people walked closer to the TV to hear what he had to say and if he would, at last, put an end to the speculation that surrounded his leadership of Fianna Fail and the country.

My point, John, is this: Nobody - save and except a few political die-hards like myself - really gave a damn what Cowen had to say. The conversation at the dinner table that followed his press conference was short and dismissive. Instead, people spoke about your wife, Michaela. The conversation was different in that it wasn't motivated by speculation about how Michaela died. Instead, it was rooted in genuine sadness and concern for you and all those left behind to pick up the pieces, if that can ever be done. The shenanigans within Fianna Fail and politicing in Leinster house are quickly – and rightly - shoved into the realms of insignificance when contrasted with a heart-breaking tragedy like that of Michaela's death.

And then as I smoked a cigarette outside the door, I spoke to a fellow Kerryman about the family that is the GAA and the respect it holds for you and Michaela's Dad, Mickey, and of course Michaela herself. Strange, isn't it, how the Down footballers and the Harte's from Tyrone who were once arch rivals of Kerry football had made their way into the hearts of their enemies?

I guess it's true to say that death has a habit of giving a master-class on perspective. At times – very often at the most difficult times – good people stand up to be counted. As you know only too well, great leaders rise to big occasions on the football field. Sometimes, it's when your back is most to the wall that the best comes out in people.

That's why the GAA is much more than an administrative body that runs Gaelic games. It's a network, a community and source of strength and support. And just like the GAA, the entire communities around Ballymacilroy, Ballygawley and the Glencull Road united together in Michaela's memory. They were and will be there for Michaela and they will be your rock into the future. For months to come, people will continue to visit and contact you and the Harte family, offering whatever support they can. I know that if they could, they'd gladly share your burden of grief. Right now, John, probably little or nothing in life makes sense at all.

Like so many people who lose loved-ones in tragic circumstances, nothing appears to rhyme anymore. Efforts to find reason and meaning meet a cul-de-sac. Those left behind often find it hard to exist, never mind to live. But if any good at all can be found in this awful tragedy, perhaps it can be found in the goodwill of Irish people.

Because the help and massive outpouring of sympathy expressed all over this country over Michael'as death is representative of who we are as a people. It's what makes us unique. It's what makes us Irish. So often in recent years, we have been judged and measured as an economy. And for a while, we judged ourselves and our neighbors by where we lived or what we had parked outside our front doors. That was or never will be what we're all about. True Irishness is best represented by the actions and thoughts of thousands over the last week who truly felt for you and your families.

They may have taken away our economic sovereignty, but can never take away our compassion and our sense of decency. In the weeks and months to come, John, it's you and all those who loved Michaela so much who will have to find the will and the way to get on with your lives as best you can. There are no quick solutions, and I think you know that. But what you can be assured of is the help and support of communities and people all around you – not because of who you are, but because of who Michaela was and what she stood for and represented. You are surrounded by good people. In this country, we do still care about what really matters. Thank God for that much.

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