Fond tributes have been paid to the victims of a St Patrick’s Day party crush as their school friends gathered for a day of funerals. There were emotional scenes as hundreds gathered to say farewell to three teenagers who lost their lives in the hotel disco tragedy in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
Morgan Barnard, 17, Lauren Bullock, 17, and Connor Currie, 16, died in the crush outside the venue last Sunday evening.
Morgan’s funeral was first to be held on a solemn day which has seen all three teenagers laid to rest. Schoolchildren formed a solemn guard of honour in tribute to the young victim at St Patrick’s Church in Dungannon, Co Tyrone.
Morgan’s family, who said the teenager brightened people’s lives with his humour, had encouraged friends and family to wear Hawaiian shirts or sports tops to the service.
In his homily, Father Aidan McCann said it was an understatement to say Morgan was well-liked. “He was a vivacious, charismatic and energetic young man who nobody had a bad word to say about. Morgan was a person of character who had a great sense of humour with an abundance of wit – always a smile on his face. You could never pass him on the corridor in school, and no doubt anywhere else, without getting a warm look or a quick joke as he passed.”
While reading a prayer during the service, one of Morgan’s friends paid an emotional tribute. “Morgan was my best friend and no matter where he is he will always be my best friend,” he said. “And I am going to love him forever.”
Lauren’s requiem Mass was held an hour later at St Patrick’s Church in Donaghmore. Lauren was carried into St Patrick’s Church in nearby Donaghamore in a pink and white casket adorned with flowers ahead of requiem Mass. She was borne through the church yard in Donaghmore followed by an enormous but silent crowd who had accompanied her on her final journey. Schoolchildren lined the street while the bell at St Patrick’s Church tolled.
Chief celebrant at the service Father David Moore said the three victims had lost their lives “needlessly”.
He described the schoolgirl as the “essence of a wonderful and caring daughter, sister, grand-daughter, niece to her family and a loyal and caring friend to so many others”.
Fr Moore said Lauren’s friends described her as having a “warm and bubbly personality with a very infectious smile”.
“That’s a lovely picture for all of us to have of her in our minds today,” he said. A funeral pamphlet had a photograph of Lauren with her dog on the front.
Purple-clad members of Lauren’s cheerleading group, Euphoria All Star Cheerleading NI, formed a guard of honour as she was taken from the church. Other cheerleading squads were also part of the line-up as well as dozens of children from local schools.
The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin, attended both of Friday morning’s funerals. “Words fail us at times like this. All that really matters, and makes a difference, is love and friendship and compassion,” he said. “And only faith can dare to speak into the darkness of these days to offer a glimmer of light and hope in this valley of tears.
“Here in Co Tyrone this week – as families, parishes, schools and communities – we’ve been circling each other around with love and faith and kindness and compassion.
“The shocking events of last Sunday have reminded us that life is very fragile; we need to cherish every moment and always look out for each other, and keep each other safe.”
Connor’s requiem Mass was held on Friday afternoon at Saint Malachy’s Church, Edendork, Co Tyrone. Schools forming a guard of honour included St Patrick’s Academy, where Connor attended, St Joseph’s Convent in Donaghmore and St Patrick’s College in Dungannon.
Members from Edendork Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club wore their jerseys as they stood in line and formed a circle around the coffin. Connor was a “much-loved and highly thought of” player, the club said previously.
Connor was a “courteous and appreciative” young student, the priest conducting his funeral Mass said. Fr Kevin Donaghy said: “Away from home he was a star as well, a conscientious student who had his sights set on doing accountancy, the office desk and computer set-up in his bedroom a sure sign that he was preparing for a life of paperwork, computers and figures.” His mother Ciara and father Eamon described him as a “gem”.
Friends recalled how he lit up a room as he entered it and his infectious smile warmed everyone’s hearts, the funeral heard.
Connor was a keen GAA fan, harbouring divided loyalties between fierce rivals Armagh and Tyrone at a recent cup final, the priest said. He literally wore both shirts during that fixture in recognition of his early years in the neighbouring county.
Fr Donaghy added: “And a winner indeed he was: a winner of a loving family; a winner of many loyal friends and team-mates; a winner in school life and on the sports field – and a winner above all, of a place among the ranks of God’s children.”
Michael McElhatton, 52, who owns the Greenvale Hotel where the deaths occurred, was arrested earlier in the week on suspicion of manslaughter. He was subsequently bailed to return for further questioning in future.
A 40-year-old man also being questioned on suspicion of manslaughter remained in police custody for questioning on Friday morning.
The coffin of Lauren Bullock is taken from St Patrick’s Church, Donaghmore after her funeral. Photo: PRESS ASSOCIATION.