Thousands attended the funerals of Eimear Walsh and Eoghan Culligan, two of the five Irish students killed last week in the Berkeley apartment balcony collapse that left six dead and seven others severely injured.
At the funeral of Eimear Walsh, a 21-year-old medical student at University College Dublin, Father Paul Ward told mourners that Ireland is “united by grief” following the tragedy.
Walsh’s father, Jim, gave an emotional eulogy, at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock.
He said Eimear was such a beautiful person, a wonderful daughter and sister.
"We're very proud of who she was and what she achieved," he added.
He said his daughter was, among many things, "fun-loving, kind-hearted and independent."
"Eimear was deceptively easy-going, but she was very determined when she set her mind to something," he recalled.
He said the events of last week were "very traumatic" and added that arriving back home in Dublin was a relief.
Father Ward recalled Walsh’s active role in the local community.
He said, “I have known Eimear for most of her 21 years.
"She and a group of her friends were part of the ‘Family Mass Group’ throughout her primary school days. When they graduated to second level, Eimear and some of her friends stayed on in the Church Music Group. She was a beautiful singer and she advanced to take lessons with Honor Heffernan, who is here with us today.
"It’s interesting, but not surprising, that Eimear chose Medicine for her third level studies. I say that because she comes from a family who are most considerate and caring. They constantly look outwards to their neighbors and to the community. Their home is one of genuine hospitality.
"Eimear made a life-choice to be a healer," he added.
"The purpose of our coming together today is to seek healing."
Ward also reached out directly to Walsh’s friends and fellow students effected by the tragedy.
"The experience of death is always disturbing, but the death of a young person is very difficult. It raises questions we can’t answer," said Ward.
"It challenges the very meaning and purpose of life. It faces us with our own mortality and it challenges our faith.
"To Eimear’s friends I want you to know that despite their own pain Jim and Trish are very conscious that you are hurting too and are left shell-shocked by what has happened. When you are young, your own mortality is the furthest thing from your mind. And so it should be. As you look to the future you are now very aware of how precious and fragile life is.
"Appreciate the gift of life to its fullest and take on the mantle that Eimear has left behind, by making the world and the future a better place in her memory."
In Rathfarmham, over a thousand mourners attended the funeral of Eoghan Culligan. Along with his parents, Marie and Gerry, and his brothers Andrew and Stephen were hundreds of friends. A guard of honor was formed outside the Church of the Annunciation by pupils from St Mary's in Rathmines, Eoghan's school, and members from Ballyboden St Enda's GAA club, where Eoghan was a valued team member.
The haunting song “Forever Young” could be heard as the coffin was brought into the church. Culligan was remembered as a popular and friendly young man cut down in the prime of life.
Eoghan’s friends brought symbols of Eoghan’s life to the altar as his uncle Henry read a commentary.
Among the offerings were Eoghan’s grandfather’s old watch, which Eoghan had fixed up and worn proudly, an Obey hat which had been a gift from his girlfriend, Sarah, and a staff from a production of his beloved “Lord of the Rings.”
His uncle Henry said, "This is not the end...death is a journey we must all make."
Also among the gifts brought to the altar were an Ireland rugby jersey, a signed GAA jersey and two collages representing his strong friendships.
The congregation burst into emotional applause after Eoghan's girlfriend Sarah paid tribute to him.
She said, “I'll miss the way you never left my side and when it was time to say goodbye you'd hug me so tight, tell me how much you loved me and then say goodnight.
"I'll miss hearing you tell me how amazing we were and how we were put on this earth to be with each other.
"I'll miss how much you loved and the future we could have had and the memories we could have made.
"My soulmate was taken from me, but I know you will live on in my heart every day and that you will guide me every step of the way."
The Schuster family, whose son Niccolai was among those killed, were there to offer support to the Culligan family. Prayers were also said for the recovery of the injured students who remain in hospitals in the Berkeley area.
American Ambassador Kevin O’Malley and Minister Alex White – Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources were in attendance. President Michael D Higgins was represented by his ADC to President Lieutenant Colonel Kiernan and Taoiseach Enda Kenny was represented by his ADC Commandant Foley.
There are three more funerals, all 21-year-olds, still to be held in Dublin this week following the tragedy.
Niccolai Schuster (21) will be laid to rest after an 11am funeral Mass today (Wednesday) at the Church of the Three Patrons in Rathgar.
Olivia Burke will be buried after an 11am funeral Mass tomorrow (Thursday) morning. Burke’s cousin, Irish American, Ashley Donohoe (22) also died in the tragedy. A funeral Mass was said for both of them in Sonoma, California.
Lorcán Miller’s funeral will also take place on Thursday morning at 11am at Rathmichael Parish Church in Shankill.
It is understood that a government minister will attend each funeral.
Five of the other seven students injured in the incident – Jack Halpin, Conor Flynn, Niall Murray, Clodagh Cogley, Aoife Beary and Hannah Waters, all 21 – remain in the hospital. Sean Fahey is the first set to return home to Ireland. The others are not expected to be released in the immediate future.
In Boston on Monday night, over 300 people gathered at the Cathedral of The Holy Cross for a Mass of remembrance organized by the Irish Pastoral Centre and the Irish International Immigrant Center.
Cardinal Seán O'Malley, who offered prayers for the victims of the Berkley tragedy, was visibly touched by the outpouring of support from the Irish community of Boston. The cardinal went on to speak of the Irish tradition of supporting each other in trying times, reminding the congregation that the cathedral was built by Irish immigrants over 150 ago and remained a welcoming sanctuary for all in the Irish community.
A remembrance service will be held at 6:30pm on Thursday in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral