'You saved me' - tributes as 3 crash victims buried
Heartbroken mourners at the funeral of a woman who died in last week's triple road fatality heard how she saved lives through her tireless work.
The quiet parish of Bruckless, in south Donegal, came to a standstill as the community gathered at the Church of St Joseph and St Conal to mourn the loss of three of their own.
The first of the funerals took place yesterday morning, as the remains of Margaret McGonagle (69) and her daughter, Mairead Mundy (38), were taken to the picturesque church.
They tragically died in a road traffic collision in Ardee, Co Louth, in the early hours of Friday.
The third fatality, their neighbour Racheal Battles, was also laid to rest at the same location yesterday afternoon.
Mourners stood in silence as two black hearses carrying the first of the coffins made the short trip from the women's homes in nearby Ballyloughan to the church.
During the ceremony, the large congregation was read an emotional letter penned by one of the many people Margaret helped through her work as a counsellor.
"Mags, I don't know where to start, how to express how grateful I am to you," the letter, read out by Chief Celebrant Fr James Sweeney, said.
"I have battled with my mental health for many years and thought it was something I would just have to accept to live with, that was until I met you. You have changed my life completely, saved me as a person.
"You are an incredible woman. Absolutely amazing at what you do! It's a pleasure to have met you and I have enjoyed every second. You have inspired me so much and helped me to smile again.
"I will be forever grateful, you've been my butterfly! (I say a butterfly is an angel helping you find your way). Thank you so much for everything. I will never forget you."
Margaret moved to Bruckless when she married in 1970.
When her three children - Roger, Geoffrey and Mairead - were reared she returned to education and became an accredited counsellor.
She was also at the forefront of setting up the Donegal Rape Crisis Centre.
Fr Sweeney recalled that, this time last year, he had signed Mairead's marriage certificate as she wed her husband, Pauric.
The tragic victims were returning from a holiday celebrating Mairead's one-year wedding anniversary at the time of the road collision.
Mourners were told that mother-of-one Mairead was a "home bird" who was loved by all.
"[Mairead] lived in Bruckless all her life, a real home bird. At the age of 18 Mairead moved to nearby Glenties, but after three days returned home to mammy homesick," Fr Sweeney said.
"Mairead was a champion Irish dancer and danced in both the Ulster and All-Ireland competition.
"Having just celebrated their first wedding anniversary, [her marriage] was tragically cut short by last week's accident.
"Mairead was much loved by many people, especially by her family and friends.
"Mairead will be sorely missed in all our hearts.
"Rest in peace Mairead, a loving daughter, sister, wife, mother and friend."
Members of the local GAA club, Naomh Ultan, formed a guard of honour as the two coffins were taken from the church to the adjacent graveyard.
Mairead's teenage son was comforted by relatives as he walked behind his mother's coffin.
The two crash victims were buried side-by-side, while young relatives dropped roses into the graves as the coffins were lowered.
Through Fr Sweeney, the women's families thanked the emergency services, as well as the hospital staff who cared for their loved ones.