Brave mum 'broken beyond repair'
Mourners weep at mother's heartfelt poem and tribute to hero who saved baby
The grieving mother who lost her two children, partner, sister and mother in the Buncrana drowning tragedy told a weeping congregation her heart was "broken beyond repair."
Louise James stood before the five coffins of her loved ones and addressed their funeral in moving scenes.
She summoned huge reserves of strength to walk to the altar of the Church of the Holy Family in Derry and recite a poem of deep grief and beauty, composed after the tragedy.
Her children Mark (12) and Evan (8), her partner Sean McGrotty (49), her sister Jodie-Lee (14) and her mother Ruth Daniels (59) all lost their lives when the family car slipped off a pier in Buncrana, County Donegal, on Sunday evening.
"A city stunned in silence, hearts broken beyond repair, the tragedy of a family gone, leaving so many in despair," she recited.
"They went to watch the sunset, together on Buncrana Pier, unbeknown to them all, an angel would be near.
"Taken together as a family, joined as one on Heaven's door, a community left in mourning, lives shattered ever more. Their faces will forever map the sea, remembered by each and every one, down by the Lake of Shadows, when you look beyond the sun," she declared.
The small, modern church was full to capacity as relatives, friends, school pals, clergy, teachers, and community leaders listened in total silence to the words of this remarkable woman. Politicians in attendance included Deputy First Minister Guinness, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood and the party's former leader Martin Durkan.
Ms James thanked the Keown emergency services, the Coastguard, the lifeboat service, ambulance and health service personnel and gardai for their services on the darkest evening of her life.
But, in particular, she thanked Davitt Walsh who swam out to the sinking car and rescued her infant daughter Rioghnach-Ann. Her partner Sean's dying words to Davitt were "Save the baby."
Clasping the lectern, she said: "Finally, we will be eternally grateful to Davitt Walsh and his girlfriend Stephanie Knox.
"For without fear of his own life and safety, he entered Lough Swilly to save my Rioghnach-Ann. And I will be forever grateful to you. Thank you so, so much."
A crescendo of applause echoed to the rafters.
Damien Harkin, a teacher at Saint Joseph's primary school, told the congregation that schoolboys Mark and Evan were popular and likeable pupils.
"Evan was a beautiful, fun-loving, wee boy," he said.
He said Mark was "a teacher's dream" who was quiet, hard-working, creative, charming and always smiling.
Marie Lyndsey, a teacher at Saint Mary's College, said Jodie-Lee was a beautiful girl who also had inner beauty and "a beautiful heart."
The schoolgirl loved Justin Bieber and had a great sense of fun. She would cheer up her school friends and "the echo of her famous laugh will ring through the corridors of the school for many years to come," she said.
Sean's elder brother Jim evoked laughter as he told stories of his younger brother growing up at home.
Sean loved "craic and divilment", he said, and the friends he had in childhood remained his friends throughout his life.
A strong character trait was his resolve to always see through whatever he embarked upon to its completion.
Sean first met Louise when he berated her for getting into the taxi he was driving while she was carrying a bag of chips, said Jim to laughter.
Ruth's son Joshua spoke movingly of his mother being "a perfect human being" who was loving and kind and who made him proud.
Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown said life was "precious beyond measure."
The Taoiseach and President were represented by their aide de camps Commandants Kieran Carey and Louise Conlon.