'You must be Nicola's arms to hug her girl', funeral told as mum-for-a-day laid to rest
Just three days after being seriously injured in the crash that killed her daughter, heartbroken Ann Kenny bravely attended her daughter's funeral in a wheelchair.
With some of her injuries still visible from Monday's shocking incident on the M8 and her arm in a black sling, the grandmother said a tearful farewell to Nicola - who had been a mum for just one day.
Grief filled Thurles yesterday. There was simply no escaping the pall that was cast on the Tipperary town following the death of the local woman.
At the Cathedral of the Assumption, Fr Vincent Stapleton said it fell on all mourners to assist in the life of Nicola's only child - Lily Rose, just 6 days old.
"So while she watches over Lily Rose from heaven, you must be Nicola's arms to hug her, her mouth to praise her and lift her up, and Nicola's ears to listen to her," Fr Stapleton said, adding that her family and friends now all have that task so that Lily Rose can grow up and live life to the full - just like her mother did.
Nicola's father Patrick and brother Patrick Junior were at the heart of the hundreds of mourners who turned out to pay a final farewell to the tragic 26-year-old.
Among them were many members of staff from Tesco, where Nicola had been a popular employee.
They carried a single red rose to remember her, and a white lily as a mark of solidarity with her newborn daughter.
Lily Rose was just one day old when her mother died in a collision when the car in which she was a back-seat passenger was hit by a truck while pulled over on the hard shoulder of the M8 between the Cahir and Cashel.
Nicola's aunt, Irene Whelan - the driver of the vehicle - remains in a critical condition in the intensive care unit at University Hospital Limerick.
Ms Whelan had pulled in to allow Nicola to take a call from Temple Street Children's Hospital. Nurses told her that her child, who had been transferred there after developing a temperature shortly after birth, was well again and would be transferred back to Tipperary.
Prayers were said at the funeral for little Lily Rose and also for Ms Whelan.
Fr Stapleton pointed out that, just a few days ago, Tipperary were celebrating the county's success in the All-Ireland Hurling Final with a homecoming in Semple Stadium.
"Little did we know that just down the road in Kennedy Park, the Kenny family and local community around them were left reeling from a cruel blow, as the news of Nicola's tragic death in a road accident filtered through," he said.
It was made "so much worse" by the knowledge that Nicola was just days into motherhood and had just heard good news about Lily Rose when her own life came to an end, Fr Stapleton added.
He paid tribute to the young woman's vivacious personality, her "great zest for life," and her ability to make "so many heart connections" in her 26 short years.
"She was a beacon of life to her family and to a wide circle of friends and their children," said Fr Stapleton.
He recalled how she would whisk friends off to a concert, or the children off to Disney on Ice.
"She was a get-up-and-go girl," he said, later adding that her heart was "alive with love for others".
Fr Stapleton said Ms Kenny's last great act of love was the birth of her daughter.
"She would have had so much love to give her," he said. "She can give it no longer in body now, but in spirit.
"We pray for Lily Rose now and ask Nicola and God's guardian angel to continue to watch over her from heaven," he said.
Meanwhile, he urged the community to hold one another as they struggle with this tragedy in the days, weeks and months ahead.
During the communion, lyrics from Glenda the Good Witch's song from the musical Wicked was sung on the altar, with the heartfelt words: "I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason / bringing something we must learn and we are led / to those who help us most to grow if we let them / and we help them in return."
The coffin left the church to the poignant sound of one of Nicola's favourite singers, Olly Murs.
Tears rolled down the faces of mourners as they followed the hearse down Cathedral Street on the way to the burial at St Patrick's cemetery in Thurles.
Some of Nicola's friends wore Minnie Mouse T-shirts and carried balloons festooned with the face of the Disney mouse, who had been a favourite with Nicola.
Floral tributes spelled out the word "friend" in pink flowers and, most poignantly of all, Mam - as a mark of respect from her tiny baby daughter, who remains in hospital.
Among the mourners was former Environment Minister Alan Kelly and former prominent politician Des Hanafin, a long-time friend of the family.