Tears flow as Kodaline join mourners to remember 'ray of sunshine' Ciara
Irish chart-toppers Kodaline made an emotional return home from the UK to pay their respects to tragic teenager Ciara Lawlor.
The 17-year-old collapsed and died at the band's concert in Marlay Park on Friday night.
Thousands of mourners attended the popular schoolgirl's funeral at Saint John's Church in Kilkenny town yesterday. They wept openly as the band joined Ciara's classmates from the Loreto Secondary School Choir and sang a heart-wrenching version of their hit High Hopes.
Tears streamed down the faces of the congregation as the haunting melody echoed around the pews and mourners poured out of the church, utterly bereft.
Speaking on behalf of the band after they performed Love Will Set You Free at the end of the funeral mass, drummer Vinny May told the packed church that the band simply wanted to pass on its condolences to Ciara's loved ones after learning of her tragic death following their open-air concert in Rathfarnham, south Dublin.
Before they took to the altar, parish priest Fr Frank Purcell fought back tears as he noted that "Kodaline were privileged to give Ciara the best send-off ever".
He thanked the band from Swords, Co Dublin, afterwards for "their kind and generous gesture" to perform at her funeral after flying in from the UK yesterday morning.
Earlier, the 17-year-old's former classmates and friends from the O'Loughlin Gaels GAA club and the Kilkenny City Harriers Athletics Club formed a massive guard of honour outside the church as Ciara's remains were brought to the same church where she was baptised.
Fr Frank spoke of the tragic, untimely death of the "beautiful girl, inside and out" whose sudden death from a pre-existing medical condition has plunged the entire community into shock and grief.
"Ciara was suddenly snatched from this life as she was bopping and rocking with her friends to her beloved Kodaline," he said. "Ciara had a beautiful spirit and soul and was a beautiful looking girl."
Her heartbroken family, her wide circle of friends, neighbours and members of the community sat in stunned disbelief as they clasped their hands in prayer.
Many simply wept as Fr Frank spoke of the "bubbly and vivacious" young woman who was a "treasured friend" to so many. Her kindness, her friendliness and her zest for life always lit up whatever room she entered, he said.
He also spoke of the sense of shock, confusion and anger felt by many when someone so young and so full of promise "is called unexpectedly out this world".
Indeed, a photo of Ciara's beautiful smiling young face - full of life, happiness and promise - which adorned the front of the Mass booklet - looked out of place on such a solemn occasion.
"Words don't necessarily assist in describing why we are here," Fr Frank said.
"But let us pray, especially for those who are left to pick up the pieces, as it were, her family. When someone like Ciara dies at such a young age and so unexpectedly and who oozes personality, vivaciousness and talent, we're faced with dozens of troublesome questions.
"Today is the toughest of days for John, Eimear, Jack and Barry," he said of her beloved parents and brothers.
"Today is one of many tough days ahead."
Her devastated brother Barry read a touching reflection in which he said that mourners can either "turn your back on tomorrow" or do as Ciara would do and "smile and keep going".
Her close girlfriends also spoke of how "there are no words to describe how heartbroken we are at the loss of our beautiful sister".
"Ciara was a ray of sunshine," said one friend.
"Ciara loved to laugh," added another. "It was her favourite thing to do and she loved best to laugh at herself."
Other friends presented some of her treasured personal belongings as symbols of her life and hopes for the future.
A rosette and badge that she won for a science project at the BT Young Scientist competition symbolised her drive and work ethic as a student at Loreto Secondary School in Kilkenny where she was due to sit her Leaving Cert next year.
An "L" sticker was presented by another friend - a symbol of her desire to get a full driving licence and fulfil her dream of owning her own car one day.
Like many of her generation, her mobile phone was a symbol of her lifeline to her many friends.
Finally, there was a photo of her family, who were inconsolable as they made their way to her final resting place at St Kieran's Cemetery in the town.
The heartbroken family issued a statement earlier this week in which they praised their beautiful, charismatic daughter.
"Ciara was a beautiful, vivacious 17-year-old girl," they said.
"She was full of life, loved music and despite a pre-existing medical condition was active in the local athletics club."
"Ciara was down-to-earth, a friend to everyone, a real people person. Family meant everything to Ciara."
Kodaline, meanwhile, declined to comment as they left the church after offering condolences to some mourners, including a former classmate and teacher. But the band members issued a statement after learning of her demise following their concert.
"We are so saddened to say that during our concert at Marlay Park, a 17-year-old girl with a pre-existing medical condition suddenly became ill," the band posted on its Facebook page.
"The expert on-site medical team (including doctors and paramedics) immediately treated the girl who was transferred directly to hospital by an on-site ambulance.
"We were shocked and devastated to be informed that despite the best efforts of all medical teams, she passed away in hospital.
"Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the deceased and we wish to extend our condolences on behalf of us and all of our crew," the statement added.