Fr Kevin Hegarty
IMAGINE a television fictional drama about a young woman who had just gotten engaged on a holiday in South Africa, and who suffered an illness on the flight home that results in her death.
Sometimes reality is more harrowing and painful than fiction. So the Donoghue family of the village of Tirrane discovered last month when Majella, their youngest daughter, died on her way home from South Africa with her fiancé, Barry Doherty.
So we found ourselves on the bleak last Sunday of November in her local church, St Brendan’s, beside her family home, to recall and celebrate her life and to commend her to God’s mercy. We were also there to be in solidarity with Barry, her mother Mary, her siblings Angela, David, Tommy, Brendan and her twin brother Stephen, with whom she had a special bond.
I have known the Donoghue family for many years. When I taught in the convent school in Belmullet, Majella’s sister Angela was one of my pupils. I remember vividly the day she told me, full of excitement, of the arrival of the twins.
It was my privilege to speak at her funeral. What struck me on the day was the enormous positive impact she had made in her short life of 30 years. The church was packed to capacity and the congregation flowed well out into the church yard. Along with relatives, neighbours and friends there was a large contingent from Boston Scientific where she worked. The air was tense with incomprehension. What cruel fate had taken her from us?
At the start of my few words I quoted Austin Clarke’s poem, ‘The Planter’s Daughter’, which ends with the line: “She was the Sunday in every week.”
For those who knew her, Majella was the Sunday in every week. She was beautiful, vivacious and compassionate. I reckon she captivated everyone she met. She had a smile that lit up every encounter. It was as warm as a big turf fire on a winter’s day, as broad as Blacksod Bay and as bright as a harvest moon on Cross Lake on a tranquil October night.
Her life was shaped by love, loyalty and laughter. Her family knew the depth of her love. She had a way or creating experiences that enriched them. Barry was the love of her life. From the moment they met, they clicked. At the funeral he spoke bravely of what she had meant to him.
Majella’s love flowed out beyond family and friends. She had a passionate commitment to social justice. Most of us contribute to charities. Some of us were the tee shirt and and run marathons on their behalf. Few of us enter the heart of darkness that is third world poverty and seek to bring hope to those without hope. Majella was one of the few. She spent time in the Christine Noble orphanage in Vietnam and also did stints in the beleagured communities of Cambodia and Haiti.
She loved her work. If positions in human resources and recruitment had not been invented already, they would have had to be created for her. She saw the value in others and helped them to see the value in themselves. She was tactful, encouraging and consoling. She knew how to affirm and to challenge.
She loved to celebrate life. She retained into adulthood a childlike innocence and excitement. Mayo football was her second grand passion. She longed for the day when Sam Maguire would cross into the county and the bonfires blazed from Shrule to Blacksod. Defeat did not curb her enthusiasm. She loved to organise parties and get everyone involved. She was chosen as the winner of the lovely girl competition in the “Father Ted” competition on the Aran Islands. She was well used to clerical foibles as she often helped her mother in the sacristy at Tirrane. In her short life Majella gave to all who knew her, an example of how to live life well.