Homily at Funeral Mass of Thomas & Sylvia Connors, and their children Jim, Christy, and baby Mary
Thursday 22nd October 2015 at the Church of the Ascension, Balally Parish, Dublin 16
Principal Celebrant, Fr. Derek Farrell, Parish Priest at the Parish of the Travelling People; assisted by Fr. Dermot Lane, Parish Priest, Ballaly.
Concelebrant, Bishop Ray Field, auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, representing Archbishop Diarmuid Martin; and priests of Ballaly parish and neighbouring parishes.
Homily by Fr. Derek Farrell, PP, Parish of the Travelling People
“On early Saturday morning 10th October 2015 an earthquake of devastating grief struck on the Glenamuck Road, Carrickmines, in Dublin’s southside.
From the epicentre of tragedy that visited the Connors home on the Glenamuck Road, shock waves spread out through the land.
Shock waves, from the devastation of the deceased and injured, to the bereaved Connors, Lynch, and Gilbert families, to the local Travellers and neighbours, to the wider Traveller community, to the whole wider Irish nation, and on to many countries around the world. In an echo of the Gospel account of the death of Jesus on the Cross, ‘a darkness came over the whole land’.
At the foot of the Cross, Mary, and a few disciples who gathered, had to wait for the Roman soldiers to come to confirm the death, they had to wait to take him from the Cross, and to lay him in the tomb. You the Connors, Lynch, and Gilbert families know too well that anguish of waiting for your loved ones to be given back to you, of waiting to lay your loved ones to rest. This time of waiting is over, the time of grieving, a tsunami of grief, is only just begun.
Like those with Mary, we stand at the foot of the Cross with you today. In our presence and our prayer we seek to share in some small way the heavy burden of your grief. In our Mass we seek to share in the remembering of, and thanksgiving for, the precious family you have lost, and for the gift they were to each other, to you, and to many others.
Those lost we grieve, we remember.
Thomas and Sylvia, as a couple, were seen as ‘a match made in Heaven’. Deeply loving and devoted to each other, they never left each other’s side. They never seemed to fall out or have any serious argument. They were very close as man and woman, husband and wife. Married nearly eight years, they first met in Bray. After their wedding, they moved in immediately with the extended family in Burton Hall, then for a short while in Rathmichael, before the move over seven years ago to their Glenamuck home.
They were, it’s said, ‘the best father and mother that any children could ask for’.
Thomas loved his family, his family was his life.
He would help out in many ways, do the daily school runs with the children, and would do anything for his family. It was a lovely memory of Thomas and Sylvia here in the Parish that Fr. Dermot shared with us last evening, Thomas ‘swinging by the Parish with Sylvia in the van to announce the birth of Thomas and to request the Christening of his new son…and Thomas saying, with a glow in his face, we expect to be back again next year, and sure enough they were back with baby Christopher.’
Sylvia, in the words of her mother-in-law Jojo, was ‘the best girl you could ask for’. You wouldn’t see a better person, and the same could be said for Thomas. Before marrying Thomas, Sylvia took very good care of her now late ailing mother, Mary. Anywhere you’d see her mother you’d see Sylvia. She loved being a mother herself, and was a very good mother. Her husband and her children were her life.
Jim (5yrs), loved to stay with his grandparents Jim and Jojo. He was a lovely boy, a very happy boy.
Christy (3yrs), was full of life, by times quiet, a big boy for his age, Daddy and Mammy’s little boy, and up until Baby Mary’s arrival, ‘the babbie’. Jim and Christy were very close brothers, very close to their aunts and uncles, and very clever for their age, and both were waiting on the birth of their baby sister.
Baby Mary was aged just 5 months. When Baby Mary came she was much treasured by the whole family.
Thomas and Sylvia’s surviving children are young Michael and Tom. Michael, Jim, and Tom had just started in the local Gaelscoil, Ballyogan last month. Michael was named after his uncle, Thomas’ brother Michael, who himself died in a tragic motorbike accident eight years ago. Michael was Thomas and Sylvia’s pride and joy, and very close to his grandparents.
His young brother Tom, now thankfully out of hospital, and back with him and the family, thanks to the outstanding courage and bravery of his young uncle John, who aged 15 years risked his own life to save others, a hero and a source of immense pride.
As a family, the parents of Thomas put it very simply,
‘They were a lovely family, lovely children. We loved them.’
As I said during Tuesday‘s funeral Mass for Tara and Willy, their unborn child, their children Jodie and Kelsey, and Willy and Sylvia’s brother Jimmy, even a brief pondering of the wonder of each person in moments like these, today and in the coming days, can only begin to convey just a hint of the depth and the extent of the loss that all three families, Connors Lynch, and Gilbert have suffered. Only the families themselves can know the reality of what that loss actually means.
Again that is why the widespread instinctive outpouring of support for the families has been, and will continue to be so important. There has been so much good done, and goodwill shown. The flowers, messages, books of condolences, prayer vigils, Masses, the shrines, the prayers, the songs.
And all of this has been in a context of often-new close relationships and interactions between settled and Traveller, united in various forms of solidarity and prayer over the past week.
We need to build on this. This is a watershed moment which demands a new departure. We need together to make the deaths and the loss involved in this tragedy matter, not just to this family, but to all in our society, Traveller and settled. As a lasting meaningful tribute to those devastated in this tragedy we must build on the immediate gestures of generosity and sympathy.
Building on the response
I can do no better at this stage than to endorse and draw on the words of the Connors family’s local parish priest here in Balally, Fr. Dermot Lane, in his welcoming address when he said:
‘This tragedy has rightly disturbed the consciences of all of us… It has raised serious questions on issues about the provision of adequate, safe and culturally appropriate housing and accommodation for the Traveller Community, issues about the persistent reality of social inequalities between the Traveller Community and the wider settled community, and issues about deeply ingrained cultural prejudices.
There are important lessons to be learned. We must learn, above all, to walk in the shoes of the other if we are to develop genuinely inclusive and pluralistic societies. Many of us in the settled community have failed to walk with empathy in the shoes of our brothers and sisters in the Traveller Community.’
We in the Parish of the Travelling People, and I know the same for the various National and local Traveller organisations and groups, are open for dialogue and progress. A generous and committed response is needed from all quarters and at all levels – personal, community, Church, and State. The building of mutual relationship, respect and understanding, recognition and valuing of identity is possible and with goodwill and determination, within our grasp.
Perhaps for now we can draw consolation and hope from the good we have witnessed and must build on, and from the Resurrection of Jesus that tells us that love is stronger than death, love calls us to eternal life.
Again, dear Jim and Jojo, and all the members of the Connors, the Lynch, and Gilbert families, may the promise and hope of the Resurrection comfort you, may our coming together fortify and strengthen you. May you continue to find comfort in the community of family, comfort in the community of faith, in the community of Travellers, the community of neighbours, the community of fellow Irish men and women, and people of goodwill everywhere.” ENDS
Homily at Reception of the remains of Thomas & Sylvia Connors, and their children Jim, Christy, and baby Mary
Wednesday 21st October 2015 at the Church of the Ascension, Balally Parish, Dublin 16
Homily by Fr. Dermot A. Lane, PP, Balally
“When the sixth hour came, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice ‘my God, my God, why have you deserted me?” (Mk. 15: 33)
“Eleven days ago, darkness descended on Glenamuck Road in Carrickmines after a ferocious fire wiped out ten lives, one of whom was a pregnant woman. That darkness has remained with the families over the last eleven days.
I cannot begin to understand the impact of this tragedy on the Traveller Community who had lived in Glenamuck Road for several years, and the horror of that night. I cannot find words to describe the grief and pain and loss that the Connors families have suffered.
Let me begin by expressing the sympathy and solidarity of the people of Balally Parish with the Connors family, especially with Jim and JoJo, the parents of Thomas, with Thomas’s brothers: Jim, Dan, and John with Thomas’s sisters: Kathleen and Maggie; with his brothers-in-law, Mick and John, with his sisters-in-law, Katie and Chantelle, and of course with Thomas’s and Sylvia’s two surviving children: Michael and Tom, who have now lost their parents, their brothers, Christopher and Jim, and their baby sister, Mary.
I also wish to offer the sympathy and solidarity of the people of Balally Parish with Sylvia’s brothers: John and Ben, with her sisters: Annmarie, Caroline and Tina; while remembering Sylvia’s deceased parents, Johnny and Mary, her late brother, Christopher, her late sister Elizabeth, and her brothers Willy and Jimmy Lynch whose funeral took place yesterday in Bray. And I include in our sympathies and solidarity the extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, many relatives and friends.
The Connors family were well-known and respected in this Parish. They worshipped here in this church. Thomas’s brother, Michael, was buried out of this parish in 2007, after a tragic motorbike accident in the Sandyford Industrial Estate. Thomas and Sylvia, conscientiously as parents, presented their five children over the years for Baptism in this Parish over the last seven years. I had the privilege of baptising Michael Connors in 2008, and Thomas Connors in 2011. The Baptism of Thomas in 2011 was memorable because Thomas was born in Holy Week, and his dad, Thomas, swung by the Parish with Sylvia in the van to announce the birth of Thomas and request the Christening of his new son. It was agreed to have him baptised at the Easter Vigil, and in the course of the conversation, Thomas said, with a glow in his face, we expect to be back again next year and sure enough they were back with baby Christopher!
And so, the grief of the Connors family is also the grief of Balally Parish because you were, and are, an important part of the Balally community. There is very little that I can say that will ease your pain and suffering at this time, and yet I must say something however inadequate and so I turn to the Readings from the Bible for crumbs of comfort and consolation. Our first Reading assures us, that no matter what happens to us in this life, the God who created us, and who created your loved ones, “will never forget you”. The words of our first Reading are very clear: “Fear not, I am with you, I am your God I will strengthen you and help you and uphold you in my right hand of justice”. And the reason why God will never forget you is that God has written your name and the names of your loved ones on the palm of His hand. We know and believe that God never forgets.
Of course, it is natural to feel anger and disappointment and let down at what has happened. However, you are not alone in having these feelings. Jesus in the face of his own death initially felt abandoned by God and cried out, as our Gospel Reading indicates, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” And we know that a little later, Jesus surrendered Himself into the arms of God, saying: “Into your hands, oh Lord, I commend my spirit”. The apparent absence of God to Jesus on the Cross turned out to be a presence of God at the same time.
And so my prayer and hope today for the Connors family is that you will begin to see, at some stage in the future, that God is present with you in the middle of your unspeakable grief.
This tragedy you have suffered has shocked all of us. This nightmare has disturbed the Traveller Community, has shaken the Connors family, and has distressed all of us in Balally Parish. In truth, the whole nation is shocked, that such a nightmare could happen at a halting site in this day and age.
This tragedy has disturbed the consciences of all of us. It has raised serious questions about our priorities as a society, and searching questions about the responses or lack of responses by successive Governments to a variety of Reports going back fifty years, to the mid-1960s.
These questions touch on a number of very serious issues for all of us:
• Issues about the provision of adequate sites and housing for the Traveller Community;
• Issues about the persistent reality of social inequalities between the Traveller Community and the settled community;
• Issues about deeply ingrained cultural prejudices.
There are important lessons to be learned from this national tragedy. We must learn, above all, to walk in the shoes of the other if we are to develop genuinely inclusive and pluralistic societies. Many of us in the settled community have failed to walk with empathy in the shoes of our brothers and sisters in the Traveller Community. It is unhelpful to engage in the blame-game concerning this national tragedy. Instead, we must move beyond mis-understanding, beyond the standard stereotypes and caricatures. If we are to move forward, all must be involved in a new consultation and a new conversation, and that means bringing together local authorities, local communities and the Traveller Communities.
In the meantime, the Connors family must be allowed to grieve and to mourn the death of their loved ones – and of course they must surely be offered appropriate accommodation as soon as possible, so that they can begin to rebuild their broken and bruised lives.
In conclusion then, we pray that this national tragedy may become a turning point in the difficult tasks of healing, reconciliation and mutual trust that lie ahead. Amen.” ENDS
Liturgy for the Funerals of Jimmy Lynch and Willie Lynch & Tara Gilbert and their daughters Jodie and Kelsey
Tuesday 20th October 2015 at the Church of the Holy Redeemer, Bray, Co. Wicklow
Principal Celebrant – Fr. Derek Farrell, Parish Priest at the Parish of the Travelling People
Concelebrants – Bishop Eamonn Walsh, auxiliary Bishop of Dublin representing Archbishop Diarmuid Martin; Mgr. Enda Lloyd, Parish Priest, Holy Redeemer Parish, Bray; and priests from neighbouring parishes
Homily for Funeral Mass by Fr. Derek Farrell, PP, Parish of the Travelling People
“Like many other people I’m sure, I awoke to the early morning news last Saturday week hoping I was just waking from a bad dream, but quickly realising that I was waking to an enormous unfolding tragedy that was all too real.
Saturday, 10th October 2015 will forever be remembered as a horrific and tragic day in the history of our country. The three families, Lynch, Gilbert, and Connors, the entire Traveller Community and Ireland as a nation suffered a loss which is beyond words.
There are no words… No words to take away the pain. No words to restore what has been lost.
The only words we have are words of comfort, words of hopeful consolation and assurance that somehow together, our society will resolve that some lasting good will emerge, to ensure the death of these precious loved ones will not have been in vain.
Even our words of comfort and consolation though can be difficult to receive in the emotional pain of such deep grief. In the Gospel story, much as you the families are surrounded by sympathisers in these days, Martha and Mary had many people coming to sympathise with them over the death of their brother Lazarus. When Jesus arrived after the death of Lazarus to sympathise with Martha and Mary, we can detect an element of anger and disappointment in Martha’s receiving of Jesus: ‘If only you had been here my brother would not have died’.
Jesus’ immediate response to this was beyond words. The fuller version of this passage says of Jesus: ‘with a sigh that came straight from his heart’, and tells us that: ‘Jesus wept’. That, more than any words I or anyone can say on a day like today, is the more appropriate response to the deep grief you feel.
And yet, we do need words still to assure you that you will be supported in your own ‘if only’ sorrowful moments, and in your ‘what if’ fearful moments. Most importantly today, we need words to remember the loved ones you, the Gilbert and Lynch families have lost in this their funeral Mass, while remembering lovingly also in our prayers the Connors family members, Thomas and Sylvia and their children Christopher, Jim, and Baby Mary, whose family funeral Mass will take place on Thursday.
Today though, in and through our Mass, we place into God’s loving embrace, Willy and Tara, the children Jodie and Kelsey they loved so deeply and unborn child they so joyfully were expecting, and Willy and Sylvia’s brother, Jimmy.
When in the Gospel story Jesus wept, people around said, ‘See how much he loved Lazarus’. It is so very obvious from all the rivers of tears that have flowed for all those who have died in this tragedy, that they each, both adults and children, were very much loved, and loving of each other. Love is our mission on our journey through this world, no matter how long or short that journey may be. And even Tara and Willy’s unborn child fulfilled that mission, in the love with which they and the family awaited their child.
As a couple Tara and Willy were themselves very loving and close. John, Willy’s brother put it so simply and beautifully when he said: ‘God made them, God matched them.’ They stuck like glue to one another, and bonded very well. They managed everything so well, the house, the family… they were a really happy, loving family.
Willy cherished what he called his ‘three girls’ Tara, Kelsey, & Jodie… He brought the girls everywhere with him. Kelsey stuck like a magnet to Willy, always wanted to be close to her Daddy. Jodie meant the world to Willy as well. His family would say of Willy, ‘He never stops talking! He loved fixing bikes, he loved his hunting, he loved nature, he loved life’.
Tara was the boss – in the best possible way! When it came to care of her family and taking care of others, she took charge. Beautiful inside and out, always smiling, easy-going, never grumpy, a fantastic Mum, her children always came first. Tara adored her father Harry, and was very, very close to Amanda – as twin sisters they loved one another, and though not always with permission, shared everything including clothes, earrings, and hair extensions!
Jimmy, brother of Willy and Sylvia, was very popular and loved by family and friends. He had a heart of gold, and being very good with his hands, he liked to fix things, and especially to fix things for other people. He loved Elvis. Jimmy was very good to his, only quite recently deceased, beloved mother, Mary, and he was her pride and joy.
Even a brief pondering of the wonder of each person in moments like these, today and in the coming days, can only begin to convey just a hint of the depth and the extent of the loss that all three families, Lynch, Gilbert, and Connors have suffered. Only the families themselves can know the reality of what that loss actually means.
That is why the widespread instinctive outpouring of support for the families has been, and will continue to be so important. There has been so much good done, and goodwill shown. The flowers, messages, books of condolences, prayer vigils, Masses, the wonderful Fassaroe neighbourhood street candles and altar, the shrines, the prayers, the songs.
And all of this has been in a context of often new close relationship and interactions between settled and Traveller, united in various forms of solidarity and prayer over the past week.
A unity perhaps no more poignantly and particularly embodied than in the loving relationship of Tara as a young settled woman and Willy as a young Traveller man, and the family they together established so beautifully.
Perhaps for now we can draw consolation and hope from the good we have witnessed, and the Resurrection that Jesus has promised.
May the promise and hope of the Resurrection comfort you, may our coming together fortify and strengthen you, and may you continue to find comfort in the community of family, comfort in the community of faith, in the community of Travellers, the community of neighbours, the community of fellow Irish men and women, and people of goodwill everywhere.” ENDS