herald

Thursday 8 December 2016

The saddest farewell as families leave US tonight to take loved ones home

funerals

People react during a memorial for those who lost their lives after a balcony gave way in Berkeley
People react during a memorial for those who lost their lives after a balcony gave way in Berkeley

Victims of the Berkeley tragedy were brought to St Columba's church in Oakland, California last night for an all-night vigil by family members.

The church became the focal point for an outpouring of grief among the families, the J1 student community and the wider Irish community who mourned the young people killed in Tuesday's tragic accident in the city.

A cortege with four coffins bearing the remains of four of the six victims - Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Nick Schuster and Eimear Walsh, all aged 21 and from Dublin - were brought to St Columba's Church where they stayed overnight before being flown home today.

Arrangements had been put in place to allow their families private time with the four young students before a huge contingent of J1 students filed in to pay their respects.

Airport

An all-night vigil by family members, relatives and students was set to take place before the bodies were to go back to the funeral home to prepare for a flight home to Dublin from San Francisco International airport tonight.

The final touch would be a guard of honour by the students in the morning when the coffins are taken from the church.

Early tomorrow morning, the bodies of Lorcan, Eoghan, Niccolai and Eimear will be on home soil and funerals will take place early in the week.

Meanwhile, there is a joint service today in Rhonert Park, Sonoma County for cousins Olivia Burke and Irish-American Ashley Donohoe who also died in the tragedy.

Ashley is to be laid to rest in her home town, while Olivia's body will return to Berkeley and will be brought home tomorrow.

Fr Aidan McAleenan, the pastor of St Columba's spoke of how the arrangements were made to bring the bodies of the four young people to his church.

He has been intensely involved in assisting the injured who are in three hospitals in the Berkeley area.

"I spent yesterday morning looking for a funeral home that could take four separate caskets, then it came to me - St Columba, is an Irish saint, I guess we could take care of our own," he said.

Tributes continue to be paid to the young Irish students who died when a fourth floor balcony collapsed early on Tuesday morning in the city.

The two grandmothers of one of the victims, Lorcan Miller, from Shankill, Co Dublin, have told how the support of people nationwide has been a massive help to them.

His grandmother Maura told how the family are absolutely "devastated" by the tragedy.

"We have a very rough week ahead of us. My daughter will be bringing home her beautiful son and our beautiful grandson and we need an awful lot of strength and courage to go on, and the support to us from everybody around the country and south Dublin has been absolutely wonderful," she said.

She described what happened as "the worst nightmare any family can face. And we will just have to have great courage and go on".

Kindness

Speaking lovingly about the UCD medical student, Maura said he was an "extraordinary young man" in an interview with RTE Radio One's Drivetime programme.

His other grandmother Ruth Miller said that Lorcan was "such a special person." She said that the family had been receiving amazing support and kindness.

Both grandmothers attended a memorial service in UCD yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, a number of Irish students are still receiving treatment in hospital for injuries they sustained in the incident, including DCU student Hannah Waters and UCD's Aoife Beary - both 21 - who are in Highland Hospital, Oakland, around 16 miles from the scene of the accident.

Niall Murray (21), Sean Fahey (21) and Clodagh Cogley (21) are being treated at the Eden Medical Centre at Castro Valley.

Conor Flynn (22) and Jack Halpin (21) are being treated at John Muir Hospital, Walnut Creek.

Minister for the Diaspora Jimmy Deenihan visited the two young men there yesterday.

Afterwards he said he wanted to thank the hospital for the way they have looked after both Conor and Jack.

Positive

"I was very encouraged with the spirit that I saw there. Conor was very positive, and it helped no doubt that four of his friends were with him," Mr Deenihan said.

Meanwhile, Fr McAleenan spoke of how Clodagh Cogley has also been supported by J1 students.

A daughter of Niall Cogley of TV3, she has spinal injuries and has credited another of the injured, Jack Halpin, with making a heroic effort to save her.

"Clodagh is doing her best," Fr McAleenan said

"There was a whole gang of J1 students all there in the room with her, we blessed her, prayed with her and sang with her," he said.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he intends meeting with the families of the Berkeley tragedy in the coming days.He also revealed that a special service close to Leinster House is planned for next week.

Lorcan brought joy to my life: See page 14

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