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Cloud turns to light as Captain Mark Duffy makes his final journey

The funeral of the Coast Guard pilot, who died when his Rescue 116 helicopter crashed off the Mayo coast a fortnight ago, took place in Blackrock, Louth, yesterday.

BLACKROCK FUNERALS 758A6697_90507176 Captain Mark Duffy's coffin is carried to the church in Blackrock Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

BLACKROCK HAS A sense about it peculiar to a certain kind of Irish village. Secluded, quiet, peaceful, close to everything, situated as it is on the coast just south of Dundalk in north Louth, and yet on a plane all of its own.

Not every Irish town is so naturally beautiful of course. Tucked in under the watchful eye of the Cooley Mountains on the shore of the Irish Sea, the view from the Church of St Oliver Plunkett is breathtaking.

Captain Mark Duffy loved the Cooleys. “You can stick your Wicklow Mountains,” was his oft-repeated refrain, according to his friend, Garda Declan Whelan, who delivered a heartfelt eulogy at the Captain’s funeral yesterday morning.

He would know. As one of the most senior pilots in the Irish Coast Guard, Mark no doubt had seen parts of every Irish mountain range that even God may have forgotten about.

“‘A ham sandwich always tastes better at the top of a mountain at the end of a long hike’, that’s what Mark would say,” said Whelan.

mark d Mark Duffy

It was just one of many affectionate anecdotes shared about Duffy, a man seemingly universally beloved, by his friends. Taken at just 51, all could agree it was a shockingly young age for someone so full of life.

Search and rescue

All morning dark clouds had gathered ahead of the funeral.

For hours in advance the gold braid of Coast Guard pilots was in evidence along the coast road. They were joined in force by hundreds of others, and representatives of every search-and-rescue branch imaginable: the RNLI, Air Corps, Dublin Fire Brigade, Dundalk Fire Services, Her Majesty’s Coast Guard, various mountain rescues – they had all come to pay their respects; to stand in solidarity.

They all, together with children from the local St Francis’ national and St Vincent’s secondary schools, formed a solemn guard of honour for the fallen pilot as he made his final journey home, led to the church by a mournful piper’s lament as the clouds finally burst.

“It’s just such a disaster,” said a Coast Guard volunteer, one of many doubling as stewards for the morning that was in it.

He had two young kids. Everyone is so used to that feeling of comfort, you know the one, the heli flies overhead and you know it’s there, there for us all, doing its duty. But now it’s just not there any more is it.

He shrugs sadly. His point is a good one. Watching the proud red-and-white livery of the Coast Guard flying overhead is an experience most Irish citizens can relate to. They keep us safe. Mark Duffy’s funeral is the second such dreadful occasion the Coast Guard has experienced in less than two weeks. Do we even realise how much we owe them?

Throughout the service, prayers are repeatedly offered for the families of missing winchman Ciarán Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby.

For the loved ones of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Mark Duffy, there is at least some closure. They have been able to bring their people home.

“We keep in our thoughts and prayers those who are missing,” said Parish Priest at Blackrock Pádraig Keenan. “We bring to mind their family members who are present with us and their colleagues in the Irish Coast Guard.”

BLACKROCK FUNERAL 758A6897_90507208 President Michael D Higgins gives Mark Duffy's son, Fionn, a hug following the funeral service Eamonn Farrell / Eamonn Farrell / /

“His whole world”

President Michael D Higgins and his aide-de-camp are present. It is the first time the president has been to Blackrock church since a similarly tragic event – the funeral of Garda Tony Golden, shot dead in the line of duty in October 2015.

Immediately after the service, the president embraces Mark Duffy’s wife Hermione, widowed brutally after 26 years with her soulmate and 17 years of marriage, and her two children Fionn and Esmé.

All three are distraught. “His family was his whole world, he was so proud of them,” said another of Mark’s friends, Coast Guard colleague Ed Shivnen, in his eulogy.

“The outpouring of help to his family is a result of Mark’s hard work, and the friendships he made. I know he would have wanted us all here wearing our happiest smiles.”

Hermione had asked Shivnen to read a specific poem, WB Yeats’ An Irish Airman Foresees His Death:

I know that I shall meet my fate, somewhere among the clouds above…
The years to come seemed waste of breath, a waste of breath the years behind,
In balance with this life, this death

It can hardly ever have been more apt.

The prayers of the faithful asked that “Mark who was a gentle, sincere, kind and peace-loving man may now come to possess the happiness of the kingdom of heaven”; that “those who grieve for Mark’s loss may be comforted by the knowledge that the lord will take care of him.”

20170330_120837 The sun shines over Dundalk Bay at the end of the funeral service

“In the course of life a priest is often queried about the reality of immortality. To me the only answer always seemed to be that the human soul, the human personality is far too wonderful a thing to ever die,” Mark’s uncle, the Reverend Stephen Duffy, says in his homily.

“I have never felt this so strongly as I did when confronted with Mark’s lifeless body after it was recovered from helicopter 116. I remember Robert Kennedy, speaking of his brother the late President John F Kennedy, after his assassination using the following words of Shakespeare:

When he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of Heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun.

As Mark Duffy’s coffin left the church for the final time, down the hill the waves rolled in as the sea rushed the shore.

And overhead, the sun shone.

Read: ‘Paralysed with grief, we have lost one of God’s finest creatures’ – funeral of Captain Mark Duffy takes place

Read: ‘Captain, colleague, daughter, sister, mum, friend and hero’ – Captain Dara Fitzpatrick is laid to rest

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