The remains of four of the six Irish students who died in the Berkeley balcony collapse arrived back in Dublin on Aer Lingus Flight 146 at 11am on Sunday morning from San Francisco as a shattered nation waited to mourn them.
The Aer Lingus plane, the St Columba, also carried grieving friends and families of four of the six victims victims, who died on early last Tuesday morning when a balcony collapsed at the Berkeley apartment where a 21st birthday party was being held.
In a strange coincidence the plane's name, St Columba, called after a 6th century Irish missionary, was the same as the church in Oakland where the bodies reposed before being sent home.
Funerals will take place this week in Ireland for the victims, who were all based in Dublin. Seven otherstudents are still recovering in hospitals in the San Francisco area. Meanwhile, the families of five of the victims of the Berkeley balcony collapse have issued a joint statement thanking people for the support they have received.
RTE reported that relatives of Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcán Miller, Niccolai Schuster and Eimear Walsh said the support they have received in Ireland and America has been a "tremendous comfort" to them.
The families issued the statement before boarding the flight to Dublin with the students' remains.
When gentle refuge sought, an Irish sanctuary found; abide with friends and family on the long journey home. pic.twitter.com/wSHkA6TsAr— Irish Consulate W US (@IrelandSanFran) June 20, 2015
They said they also particularly wanted to thank the other students who were in the apartment and the wider complex that night.
They said that the manner and speed at which they reached out to the families, to the Consul General and to each other was "faultless."
The families said that their children were "extraordinarily blessed in their friends and we are enormously proud of them."
At a special mass in Dublin for the victims on Saturday Archbishop Diarmuid Martin paid tribute to their sense of adventure.
"I can remember myself as a young seminarian just turned 21 - long before the invention of J-1s - going to work for the summer in London and taking my first steps away from the security of family and the routine of seminary, proud of asserting a new sense of personal autonomy.
"It is the typical mark of growing up, of leaving adolescence, of seeking a sense of exploration, not just of new places to go to, but also of exploring of what is going on in my own heart," he said.
"The tragedy at Berkeley struck suddenly. It struck young people at a beautiful moment in their lives."