FINAL JOURNEY The funeral of Declan Davitt leaves the Church of the Holy Family, Killeen last Friday morning, on the way to burial in Killeen New Cemetery. Pic: Keith Heneghan
Hundreds mourn young Louisburgh lives cut short by ‘cruel random mischance’
Over the course of two days, the people of Killeen, Carrowniskey and the wider Louisburgh community gathered inside and outside the Holy Family Church in Killeen to show their support to the families of Martin Needham and Declan Davitt.
Speaking of the tragic deaths of the two young men on Christmas morning, parish priest Fr Mattie Long said their two ‘unfinished’ lives were cut short ‘far, far too soon by a cruel, random mischance’.
The funeral of Martin Needham (27) of Aillemore, Killadoon, Louisburgh, took place on Thursday afternoon last, while the funeral of his neighbour and lifelong friend, Declan Davitt (26) of Curradavitt, Louisburgh, took place the following day.
The friends died in the early hours of Christmas morning when the SUV in which they were travelling was swept away by a torrent of water as they attempted to drive through the normally passable Carrowniskey river. A third man, a passenger, managed to escape the car and swim to safety and raise the alarm.
Hundreds of people from the local community attended both funeral Masses. Such was the crowds that mourners gathered across the road in the Killeen Community Centre, where the Mass was relayed via a loud speaker.
A large number of friends of the two men played active roles in the proceedings, forming guards of honour and driving the tractors that escorted the hearse carrying the coffins from their homes to the church on the morning of each funeral.
Mr Needham is survived by his parents, Pat Joe and Breege; his sisters, Olivia, Patricia, Caitriona and Elaine; and their families. Mr Davitt, who was predeceased by his sister, Kathleen, is survived by his parents, Walter and Mary B; his brother, Christopher; and two sisters, Mary and Patricia.
At the funeral Mass of Martin Needham, Fr Long, who was the chief celebrant, referred to the tragic timing of the event which tore at the heart of the community, so soon after the local Christmas Eve Mass.
“Our scripture reading spoke of us receiving news of great joy; it told of a light being shone on those who walked in darkness. We went home happy and relaxed looking forward to a Christmas Day in the company of loved ones and friends.
“We all know that the sound of telephone ringing in the small hours of a morning any day of the year is rarely the bringer of good news. But when our phones rang early on Christmas morning, we knew instinctively it couldn’t be good news. Sadly for you, Martin’s family and for the Davitt family, it brought the worst possible news. The phones rang throughout the parish that morning as the word spread. A light was extinguished. We again walked in darkness.”
He added that the only glimmer of light that the day yielded was the recovery of the bodies of the two men, so their families could begin to mourn.
In his homily for both funerals, Fr Long touched on how the tragedy had brought the community together in support of the Needhams and Davitts.
“Last Monday morning, Christmas Day, there were people who did all that was humanly possible to help. The people of Carrowniskey and Roothith immediately responded in the dark and very poor weather conditions to see what they could do … On Christmas morning, they abandoned their own plans and without hesitation opened their homes to facilitate the Davitt and Needham families.
“The emergency services, our Gardaí and Coast Guard, the Order of Malta and ambulance volunteers. The neighbours and friends and all others who volunteered and assisted in so many ways throughout that long and difficult day. The professional and dignified care which was given to Martin and to Declan when they were recovered. The compassion shown to all of their families can serve to remind us how precious each person is in the eyes of God.”
That community spirit was evident again on the days of the funerals, with marshals from Killeen Community Council helping motorists to find parking along the narrow roads and refreshments being served for all in the community centre.
Farming, family and home
Martin Needham and Declan Davitt had spent a number of years in New Zealand and Australia where they worked on farms. They had recently returned home, where they continued to play an active part in farming circles. Fr Long noted that without any co-ordination the gifts chosen by the two families to signify their lives were almost identical, with farm machinery and farming symbols among them.
A relative of Martin Needham said a trip to the mart in Maam Cross would make his week while Fr Long described him as an obliging young man with a love for machinery.
“As you know he had a passion for machinery, it was never a job for him, it was a love, something he liked doing. Driving and operating all sorts of plant, the bigger the better. He had this interest and passion from a young age, indeed being advised on occasion from his teacher that he would never get a job by looking out the school window at the sound of every passing tractor and digger. He was able to say later with very good humour, that he proved that one wrong,” he said to laughter from the congregation.
At the funeral Mass for Declan Davitt, prayers were said for his sister Kathleen, who passed away seven years ago. Declan spent four years working in New Zealand, and some friends travelled from New Zealand to attend the funeral. Although he loved his life in New Zealand, Fr Long said his love for his family was the main reason for returning home.
“Family was important to him, and contact was important. Amongst other things there was long-distance cooking lessons given by his mother, Mary B; Declan must surely have the record of having been the first person to be taught how to make a soda cake over an international phonecall.
“But his future belonged in Ireland and he gave Walter and Mary B a huge surprise by walking in unannounced. He knew what it would mean to them, and he wanted that occasion to be as special as it could be. And it was, sweet tears of joy were shed that day in the Davitt household.
“Sadly his homecoming this Christmas has brought tears of sorrow and anguish. The life you gave him will always he cherished and never forgotten. The happy days and sad days will remain always in your memory and heart. The blessing that you gave him and those he gave you by his presence and unique personality will remain with you forever and will in time again raise a smile,” he said.
Following both Funeral Masses, the coffins of both young men were carried the short distance across the road to Killeen Cemetery where they were laid to rest.