Hundreds of mourners poured into the shape of a perfect cross as they filled the T-junction outside St Brigid’s Church, clutching flowers and each other’s hands as they waited for Ashling Murphy’s funeral.
Words about Jesus’ sacrifice to the world, dying violently to save unknown others, would strike an awful resonance as repeated calls were made throughout the funeral for Ms Murphy’s tragic death to provoke change to make the world a safer place for women and girls.
Irish folk song, ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’, never sounded so mournful as musicians who loved Ms Murphy played it, their music floating through the churchyard in Mountbolus, Co Offaly.
Yellow roses were held by her camogie teammates who formed a guard of honour as her hearse approached.
Children from Durrow National School, where Ms Murphy had taught, formed another tearful guard of honour by the churchyard entrance.
A flag fluttered at half-mast as President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina were ushered into the church.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Arts Minister Catherine Martin, Education Minister Norma Foley and Justice Minister Helen McEntee also attended the service.
As Ms Murphy’s body was brought into her local parish church for the last time, the clouds closed in overhead and rain started to fall.
Little girls stood silently in the rain, heads bent and perfectly still, as they held their mothers’ hands as her funeral mass began.
Through tears, Ms Murphy’s cousin, Ciara Leonard, told the congregation that “Ashling epitomised the beauty of life, and shared her passion, gifts and talents with others so generously.
“May Ashling’s legacy lives on in the hearts of all she touched,” Ms Leonard said.
Another cousin, Rachel O’Shea, said: “We pray that the many vigils that took place in memory of Ashling mark the beginning of an end to violence against women.
“May the candlelight tributes bring an everlasting hope to all those who live in fear.”
Parish Priest Father Michael Meade encouraged people to find the courage to make positive change happen.
“The issues raised in many ways and by many voices since this horrible act of violence invaded all our lives will, we pray, continue to evolve and bring the change we need so much, to simply give and show respect,” he said.
“Let us not be afraid to make change a reality in all our lives, change for what only is good.”
Fr Meade welcomed all mourners and reminded them to support “those whose darkness is deep, whose pain is raw and fierce”.
Together we grieve, we pray, we hurt – this is the heavy price we pay for love.
“Kathleen and Ray, Cathal, Amy and her boyfriend, Ryan – you have been robbed of your most precious gift – a gift that gave only joy and love, fun and laughter to many beyond your family.”
Ms Murphy had been baptised at this church, he said, and from there, she had “blossomed into a life of love, a life of hope, a life of trust”.
“That same love and joy were not kept on a shelf or wrapped up – it was freely given and shared through music, through sport, through her vocation as a teacher.
“Today, we give thanks for the privilege of sharing in this most wonderful gift of Ashling Murphy.”
He said Ashling would be warmly welcomed into heaven by God and her grandparents Sheila and Paddy, Lily and Joe.
Ms Murphy’s godparents, Sean Leonard and Regina Murphy, brought symbols of Ms Murphy’s life – a GAA jersey from her local club, a family photo, a school book, a photo of Ashling and a fiddle to the top of the church.
A camogie stick was also visible near the altar and an arrangement of white lilies spilled over a table towards a framed photo of Ashling smiling with the warmth and luminosity she has now become known for across the country.
Bishop of Meath, Tom Deenihan, said “the past few days have been a nightmare”.
“A walk on a mild and sunny afternoon in January should be a happy event, promising the brighter and warmer days of spring and summer. That, as we know, was not the case. A depraved act of violence that deprived a kind, talented, loved and admired young woman of her life has since united the country in grief and support.
The crime has also asked questions of ourselves and of society. It has questioned our attitudes and, particularly, our attitudes towards women and it has questioned our values and our morality.
“Whether those questions will be addressed or passed over remains to be seen but we cannot allow such violence and disregard for both human life and bodily integrity take root in our time and culture. Pope Francis in his homily for New Year’s Day just two weeks ago said that violence against women was an insult to God.
“We all know that no individual should die like Ashling and no family should suffer like Ashling’s. Respect is an old-fashioned word but it is an important one. Respect was missing last Wednesday but it has re-emerged here all the stronger. Let us respect each other.”
Songs were sung throughout the service by Ella Flaherty, Ruth Flaherty, Sarah Gunning and Caitríona Ní Oistín, accompanied by Regina McCarthy.
Outside, musicians from Ms Murphy’s local Ballyboy Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, teaching colleagues and friends assembled on the street outside the churchyard, many playing music for Ms Murphy through tears as her coffin was taken from the church to be brought to its final resting place.
At the graveside, her grieving boyfriend, Ryan Casey said Ms Murphy had been his “soulmate” and “the greatest love of my life”.
“It’s simply not possible to explain what Ashling meant to myself or her family, friends in these few brief words. All I’d like to say, in this moment in time, is that Ashling was in fact our shining light,” he said.
“She loved her mum Kathleen, her father Ray, her big sister Amy and her big brother Cathal, and all of her family and friends so much,” he said.
“She was always there, always willing to help anybody anywhere at any time and always put herself last. She had so many hobbies and talents, which all combined to make her the incredible, loving and beautiful person we all were so luck