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.

Body of second Irish Christchurch earthquake victim found

THE body of Kerry accountant John JJ O’Connor has been found by crews
searching the ruins of buildings hit by the earthquake in New Zealand
last month.
His body was been 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 (12.51pm local time) quake.
It is not known if the 40-year-old father-of-one from Abbeydorney will
be brought home for a burial or whether a date has been set for his
funeral.
A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said last night: ‘We can
confirm that John’s body has been found and identified.
‘We are giving his family every assistance we can at this time.’
Formal confirmation that Mr O’Connor died in the quake brings to two
the number of Irish victims in the disaster.
The first victim to be identified among the dead was Monaghan man, Eoin McKenna.
The 41 year old was crushed to death while sitting in his car in a car
park moment after speaking to his wife Sarah top 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 are currently in
the city arranging the repatriation of his body.
It was his ‘express wish’ that he was to be buried in his native Monaghan.
His body is expected to arrive back in Ireland on Sunday with a
funeral expected to be around Tuesday.
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 discovery of Mr O’Connor’s body brings to an end the prolongued
anguish the family suffered after there were reports that he was among
a group of people in the PGC building who were alive and talking to
rescuers.
Retired priest, Fr Ned Barrett – who is filling in for the current
parish priest – said last night: ‘This is news to me as I had only
been talking to members of John’s family at mass on Sunday.
‘Then they were still very anxious about finding him as he was still
reported as missing.
‘Our prayers are with his family at this very sad time.’

ends.

Hopes fading for Abbeydorney man trapped building hit by New Zealand earthquake

HOPES for the recovery of an Irish man trapped for hours in a Christchurch office building were fading last night.

The 40-year-old married father of one was reportedly in contact with a search and rescue team searching for victims of the New Zealand earthquake.

The team had been searching the ruins of the Pyne Gould Corporation building in the city centre, where John JJ O’Connor is believed to be an employee.

It is thought that his wife, who has been maintaining a vigil at the PGC building since Tuesday, is pregnant with the couple’s second child.

Mr O’Connor, who already has a son, is believed to have joined Perpetual Wealth Management after a recent move from London.

He is one of ten trapped in the ruins of the building and one of 17 Irish people who were still unaccounted for late yesterday.

Last night his mother, Sheila, was unavailable for comment as she was said to be visiting one of her daughters in London.

A relative at her house just outside the Co. Kerry village of Abbeydorney said the family did not wish to make any comment but that they were ‘anxiously waiting news, as you can imagine’.

Mr O’Connor’s father, Donald, who is believed to have died more than ten years ago, was a well-known farmer in the area.

A neighbour said last night: ‘I’ve only just heard and don’t know what to make of it. But I just hope he is okay and they get him out alive.’

Patrick Middleton, Mr O’Connor’s boss at Perpetual wealth management, said last night: ‘I can confirm that John O’Connor is working for Perpetual.

‘And our understanding is that he is in the building but at this stage, our key focus is on supporting his family.

‘The rescue operation continues on that building, but they are still working on the site and we just have to keep our hopes up.

‘We are holding out for hope as much as we can.’ He added: ‘The emergency services have been great.’

However, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Fire Service last night played down reports of about survivors in the building.

She said: ‘Reports about a rescue are incorrect. There have been no indications of survivors in Christchurch since Wednesday.’

Elsewhere, the Department of Foreign Affairs say they are not ‘seriously concerned’ about the remaining 16 Irish citizens who have not yet been located.

But the Department’s Peader Carpenter said last night of Mr O’Connor’s situation: ‘We have a name of an Irish person who would be there.

‘The New Zealand crisis centre have told us they will advise us immediately there is official confirmation with regard to one Irish citizen who is supposed reported to be in a building where some people are alive.’

He added: ‘They have been talking to people in that building.

‘(But) we just have no (official) confirmation that he is definitely there or that they have spoken to them or that he is alive.’

Little is known about Mr O’Connor other than the fact that he is believed to have only moved to New Zealand two months ago.

He is said to have been working on the first floor of the PGC building when the quake struck.

He has been reported missing ever since.

Last night, the number of those officially declared dead following the disaster rose to 113.

Meanwhile, Pyne Gould Corporation bosses last night said they have been advised by emergency services that while they continue to search for people at its premises on Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch, the focus has shifted from rescue to recovery mode.

Fourteen people remain unaccounted for and are believed to still be in the building.

PGC chief executive Jeff Greenslade, said: ‘Our thoughts are with our missing colleagues and their families.’

So far, Monaghan-born psychiatric nurse Eoin McKenna is the only officially confirmed Irish fatality from the stricken city hit by Tuesday’s lunchtime 6.3-magnitude earthquake.

The 41 year old was crushed to death while sitting in his car in a car park moment after speaking to his wife Sarah top 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 there to live shortly after marrying Sarah about six years ago.

Members of his distraught family are expected to make their way to New Zealand either today or tomorrow, according to a friend of the family, to arrange for his body to be flown back to Ireland.