They came from all over Ireland to the Harte home yesterday to pay their respects: those who knew Michaela and those who didn't but who wanted to show their sympathy and solidarity with a family suffering so much. After five days of constant media coverage, this was an event for the ordinary people of Ireland. Journalists and photographers were asked to say away. Everybody else was welcome.
They arrived in their hundreds to the small Co Tyrone town of Ballygawley where crowds are not uncommon. Usually, they turn out here to welcome home conquering footballing heroes and to praise the sporting prowess of the Hartes, father and daughter. Yesterday could never have been imagined. The town was sealed off. Mourners were placed on buses and brought to the Harte household to say farewell to Michaela.
It was the second large gathering of people in just 12 hours. The night before, hundreds of friends and neighbours gathered in silence near the house in Ballygawley to meet the cortege. Some women held red candles, others white ones – the Tyrone colours that Michaela wore so often to show her support for the team.
"She was a beautiful, talented, spirited young woman," said Angela Casey. "She was perfect. She had everything going for her – a loving family, lots of friends, a good job. If she hadn't been so nice, you'd have been jealous of her. But nobody ever felt like that about Michaela – we all just loved her."
Stephen Doyle, a staunch Tyrone supporter, said: "Michaela never missed a game. She was always by her father's side, whether we won or lost. She was the apple of his eye. Mickey lit up in her company. He won many trophies over the years, but Michaela was his real prize."
There was no hatred or desire for vengeance against Michaela's killers among those who lined the funeral route, only overwhelming sadness. "I've a daughter her age," said one middle-aged woman, "and I can't bear to think how I'd feel if the same thing happened her, especially so far from home.
"The one comfort for her family is that it was over quickly for her. We can only pray that she didn't suffer too much pain." Another woman said she didn't know how the Hartes or McAreaveys would ever bear to look at the wedding or honeymoon photographs.
The honeymoon flight for the bride and groom had been joyous and filled with expectation, according to friends. Michaela's journey home was long and gruelling. From Mauritius to Heathrow, to Belfast and then to Portadown and Tyrone, it took 24 hours.
No words could describe the devastation and loss on John McAreavey's face as he sat in the back seat of the car behind the hearse. A colleague in Down GAA, who asked not to be named, said: "No one deserves what has happened but certainly not John.
"He's a great guy. He's rock solid and totally decent – the kind of guy you'd want your daughter to marry. As senior team captain of Tullylish, he contributed a huge amount on and off the field. He wasn't just there for the big occasions. No task was ever too small for him. But I don't know how he'll pick up the pieces now, though we'll all be there for him."
"There is nothing for us to say except to offer our deepest and heartfelt sympathy. We are all numb," said Tullylish club secretary, Niall O'Dowd. The most poignant moment came when the cortege reached Ballygawley roundabout where Mickey Harte, his men and Michaela, would gather to board the team bus that took them to so many Croke Park successes.
Members of Errigal Ciaran, the local GAA club Harte once managed, formed a guard of honour for the cortege. Former Tyrone captain Peter Canavan was among those there to pay his respects. People standing by the roadside blessed themselves as the hearse passed.
Tyrone County Board chairman Ciaran McLaughlin said: "We are experiencing unprecedented grief right now but let's not forget that the Hartes and Mc- Areaveys will go on experiencing this for a long time to come. If that doesn't put football into perspective, then I really don't know what does."
Roads near the Harte home have been closed to all but mourners. Tomorrow, those who saw Michaela pose for pictures outside St Malachy's church in Ballymacilroy – a radiant bride, just a fortnight ago – will watch as her coffin is carried inside.
Close friends said the Hartes and McAreaveys hugely appreciated the response of neighbours and strangers to the murder. Sympathy cards, letters, texts, and emails have been sent by thousands of people touched by the death of a young woman with so much to live for.
In her tribute to Michaela, Eve Campbell wrote: "We thought of you with love today but that is nothing new/We thought about you yesterday and the days before that too/We think of you in silence, we often speak your name/Now all we have is memories and your picture in a frame."
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