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Westport man shot in Nigeria laid to rest

Funeral cortege
The cortege makes it way up Bridge Street, Westport after last Saturday morning’s funeral of Robert Gray. Mr Gray was buried in Aughvale Cemetery.

Westport engineer shot in Nigeria laid to rest

Michael Duffy

The funeral of 45 year-old Westport-born Robert Gray, who was ambushed and shot dead in Nigeria last Thursday week, took place in Westport on Saturday.
St Mary’s Church was crowded for Robert’s funeral Mass which was concelebrated by 15 priests, many of whom had known Robert in Nigeria.  The main celebrant was Fr Karl Burns who, for the previous 10 days, had given comfort and solace to Robert’s family in Westport.
At the Mass prayers were offered for the recovery of Robert’s driver who was seriously injured in the ambush.
The homilist at the Mass was Newport-born missionary priest Fr Billy Sheridan who broke the news of Robert’s death to his family after he was contacted by a friend in Nigeria.  He said it was one of the hardest things he ever had to do in his priesthood and he had wished so hard that the news of Robert’s death by shooting was untrue.
“We all live in the shadow of death every day and, living like this, we kind of get used to it and forget how near death is to each one of us.  Suddenly it hits us over the head and leaves us reeling like a punch-drunk boxer.  We find ourselves powerless, speechless, helpless and hurting.”
Fr Sheridan said Robert had worked very hard in Nigeria, up to 12 hours a day, six days a week and in very stressful and hazardous conditions.  He did all this in order to provide a good life for his family back in Westport.  His last visit home had been for his twin daughters’ Confirmation and he had planned to return home again in October.
He paid tribute to PW Construction, the company that Robert worked for and said they were the nearest thing to family that one could get in Nigeria.  The company’s help and hospitality were well known to Irish missionaries down through the years.
“The missionary priests and nuns here today are testament to that.  There are many others who would have liked to attend to pay their respects but had to remain on in Nigeria.  I know they are thinking and praying for Robert and his family today.”
Fr Sheridan said that while Robert wasn’t ‘Gospel crazy’ he was imbued with lasting Christian values that he was most anxious to pass on to his twin daughters Róisin and Fionnuala.
He described Robert as somebody who enjoyed the ‘craic’, who worked well under pressure, who was generous to a fault and who was always proud of his Irishness and being from Westport.
He added that from his own experience of life, from his own close encounters with death “that we are not allowed to die until we have finished what we have been put on earth to do.  Maybe Robert had finished what he had come here to do.  Understandably, we may not think so, but maybe God thought so.”
Despite their grief Robert’s daughters, Róisín and Fionnuala signed on for first year at the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Westport last week.
Robert, who was predeceased by his father, Declan Gray, was a native of Horkan’s Hill, Westport, and residents of the area formed a Guard of Honour in tribute to him as his funeral left St Mary’s Church for Aughavale Cemetery to the strains of one of his favourite songs, ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’. Ironically, the writer of the song, Hal David, died over the weekend at the age of 91.
Robert is mourned by his wife Jeanette, (Carrabaun), daughters Róisín and Fionnuala, mother Kitty, brother Conor, an officer in the Australian Police Force, sisters Rose Thorn (Dublin), Sharon Rose (Kiltimagh) and Caroline Spelman (Newport), parents-in-law Seán and Anne Kearns, Carrabaun, Westport, other relatives and friends. Funeral arrangements were by Navin’s Undertakers, Westport.
MEANWHILE, a spokesman for PW Nigeria told The Mayo News yesterday that the late Robert Gray’s driver, who was injured in the attack, is expected to make a full  recovery. However, the spokesman said there was no news regarding the apprehension of the gun men who carried out the horrific ambush that left the Westport father of two dead.

HAVE YOUR SAY email michaelduffy@mayonews.ie with your comments