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.

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.