Christchurch earthquake victim Owen McKenna laid to rest

Owen McKenna

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
the internet.
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
ago.
‘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
North.
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
of them.’
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
father’s coffin.
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
Sunday evening.
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
alter.
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.

Christchurch earthquake victim buried in Monaghan today

Owen McKenna

THE FUNERAL of one of the two Irish victims of the New Zealand earthquake will take place today.
Owen McKenna, whose remains arrived back in Ireland on Sunday, will be buried in his native Monaghan.
The 41 year old was crushed to death in the February 22 quake while sitting in his car moments after speaking to wife Sarah to tell her he was shopping for a meal he had been due to cook later that evening.
At the time, she was visiting relatives with the couple’s two children, Grace, six, and Tadhg, five.
He had moved to Christchurch to live shortly after marrying Sarah about six years ago.
His mother Theresa and brothers Ciaran and Brendan had travelled to the city more than a week ago to repatriate his body.
It was his ‘express wish’ that he was to be waked and buried in his native Monaghan.
Large crowds in the close- knit Truagh parish visited the family home throughout Sunday evening and Monday to express their sympathies to Eoin’s family.
He will be buried after a 12 noon requiem mass today at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Carrickroe Emyvale, near his family home house at Bracagh.
A marquee has been erected in the church car park for mourners unable to fit into the church, where loud speakers will be erected over the front door.
The service -which will be co-celebrated by a number of priests – will also be streamed live on the internet.

The homily will be read out by Fr John Skinnader, who lives next door to Mr McKenna’s family.
Neither his wife nor his two children will be coming over for the service.
Parish priest Fr Sean Nolan said last night: ‘It was considered that it would be far too traumatic for the two young children.
‘They will all be coming over later but when things are calmer.’
It is not known when Kerry accountant John JJ O’Connor will be buried.
His body was found in the Pyne Gould Corporation building where he had been working in his first-floor offices when the 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch.
The news was broken to devastated family, who had mounted a vigil outside the building which had been badly damaged in the February 22 quake.
It is not known if the 40-year-old father-of-one from Abbeydorney will be brought home for a burial.
Mr O’Connor moved to New Zealand late last year after a long stint working in London.
As well as having a two-year-old son, wife Sarah is pregnant with the couple’s second child.
The two Irishmen are among the 166 fatalities officially registered but there are still a further 122 missing people.
The dead include Julie Wong, who had been living in Lisburn in Northern Ireland before she emigrated to New Zealand five years ago.
She had been living there with her husband David and four-year old son Ethan.
Mrs Wong, who was in her mid 30s, had been working in Pyne Gould Corporation building when the quake struck.
In a statement released through the Presbyterian Church, Julie’s father and mother, Robin and Eunice Johnston, paid tribute to her on Saturday.
“In her short life she was a joy and inspiration not just to her family and friends but to everyone who knew her.
“We are so sad that her life has been cut short along with so many others in this tragic way but find strength in our Christian faith that was such a part of Julie’s life too. We know that everything is in God’s hands.”
The couple also encouraged people “to pray for all those linked by this awful earthquake that they would know comfort and healing at this difficult time”.
Her funeral will also be held today, but in New Zealand.