ONE of the two Irish victims of the Christchurch earthquake was buried
today after a service that brought as many laughs as it did tears.
More than 1,000 mourners turned up to bid farewell to Owen McKenna
while others were able to watch it streamed live around the world on
Friends of the 41-year-old psychiatric nurse, who was killed in the
February 22 earthquake, came from the UK and Saudi Arabia – where the
Monaghan father-of-two had worked before emigrating to New Zealand
more than six years ago.
Fr John Skinnader, a family friend and neighbour, spoke in his homely
at the Sacred Heart church at Carrickroe, Emyvale, Co Monaghan, of the
moment he heard about the quake.
The priest, who recently returned from a variety of overseas missions,
said: ‘I met Owen at the christening of his daughter Grace some years
‘And when I heard on Sky news a few weeks ago that a Monaghan man was
missing in new Zealand and that he was married to a New Zealand woman,
it struck me – “My God”, I said – “That could be Owen”.
‘Now, it’s not that I often remember people – I blame it on the
malaria tablets – but I remember Owen.
‘He was full of life and ready for any devilment that would come along.’
‘There was something about Owen that struck me all those years ago and
so it is with deep sadness that we come together to pray our final
farewells to Owen, to offer our sympathies to his wife Sarah, and his
children and his mum, brothers and sisters.’
He paused, before leaning towards the mourners and said firmly: ‘He
was a young fellah, full of life and ready for any devilment that
would come along.’
He recalled how Mr McKenna used to behave when he had to stop his car
at the old British Army checkpoints at border crossings into the
On one occasion, he was with his late father Michael.
‘When they drew up to the border, Owen rolled won the window and
before the army could say anything, Owen would shout out the number of
the car, which was HBI 177,’ Fr Skinnader recalled.
‘He would shout it out as “Hotel Bravo India 177 . . . over, Charlie,
over and out”.
‘The poor father, his heart would be in his mouth but sure, the
soldiers only smirked as they saw this young cub taking the mickey out
This raised a laugh among the mourners, who included his mother
Teresa, brothers Kieran, Enda and Brendan and sisters Bernadette,
Maria, Angela and Catherine.
His wife Sarah and children Grace, 6, and Tadgh, 5, did not attend the
service, but were able to watch it from a live internet link to the
church. Drawings the children had made were sellotaped to their
Fr Skinnader also recalled a trip home that Mr McKenna made while he
was working in Saudi Arabia.
‘Him and a few of his gang dressed up as Sheiks and they went to
Punchestown Racecoarse, where they were winded and dined,’ he said.
‘Everybody thought they had all this money.
‘He was man who was always looking out for the bit of craic.’
At the time of his death, he had started studying to ‘improve his
knowledge of patient care’ and had been working on a training
programme being designed by colleagues in London and New Zealand.
Fr Skinnader praised the ‘great compassion and openness’ of Mr
McKenna, who had ‘showed the greatness of our Irishness’.
He told how former boy scout Mr McKenna and his wife offered their
home as a place for ‘any’ Irish person who needed to leave Australia
because of visa restrictions on their stay but didn’t want to go all
the way back to Ireland.
He also revealed that although ‘he was recognized as an excellent
nurse, his compassion was not confined to the hospital.
He said: ‘He used to go in his spare time up to what was called the
Cardboard City, up by Charing Cross to the ones that were living on
the streets, the down and outs and he would hand them out food and
cigarettes and have a chat with them.’
Fr said: ‘Also, he was constantly trying to cross barriers.
‘He went to a pub that was really just for coloured people and blacks
but because of his engaging wit and sense of humour he was welcome
into that pub.
‘And they called him the Milky Bar kid – he was the only white Irish
paddy in the place.’
Such was his love and support from his local football team, that when
his two brothers went into his office to sort through his things, they
found a to-do list.
Fr Skinnader said: ‘They saw one of the things he had to do was to pay
his membership of Truagh football club . . . for this year.’
Earlier in the service, Fr Sean Nolan – who celebrated the mass -
thanked the Department of Foreign Affairs for the help they provided
the family in the repatriation of Owen’s body, which returned on
He also thanked for their support President, Mary McAleese and New
Zealand’s consulate general Alan McCarthy, who attended the service.
Prayers were also said for John O’Connor, the Kerry accountant who
also lost his life in the Christchurch earthquake.
Later in the service, a slide show tribute of his Mr McKenna’s life
put together by his wife was shown on the walls on either side of the
Before and after the poignant slide show – which was screened with
Don’t Look Back in Anger from the rock group Oasis playing in the
background – copies of a photograph of Mr McKenna were projected onto
the same spots on either side of the alter.
Mr McKenna was buried in the church graveyard and mourners later
joined the family for tea and sandwiches in the local community hall.
It is not known when Mr O’Connor will be buried.