SUNLIGHT blazing through the stain glass West Window of Holy Cross church in Charleville, cast a warm shadow over three coffins this lunchtime - two of them small, one large, all white in colour.
Paddy and Thomas O’Driscoll, 9, and their older brother Jonathan, 21, lay side by side; at peace now.
Along the pews, children sheltered under parents’ arms. For many it was their first meeting with death and grief.
It was one nobody could ever have imagined.
Twins Paddy and Thomas had died in the saddest of circumstances last Thursday - at the hand of their other brother - in the bedrooms of a terracotta coloured bungalow less than half a mile from here.
It was the place they called home.
At just after a quarter to midday, Thomas Sr, the boys’ father, dressed head to toe in black, walked the long aisle to the top of the church.
Slowly, and tenderly, he reached out his hand and patted the first white coffin, then the second, finally the third.
The larger coffin, that of Jonathan, stood in the middle, his small brothers on either side of him.
Shortly before midday the boys’ mother Helen joined her husband and other family members in the first pew. Meticulously, she placed photographs of her boys on the top of each of their coffins before securing them with sellotape.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found.
‘Twas blind, but now I see
Helen O’Driscoll clasped both her hands together and looked to the heavens.
Fr Tom Naughton began his homily. Since 5pm last Thursday, the curate’s way with words has offered much hope and solace. His face however, could not conceal a heaviness of heart.
“During the last few days, ever so many people have tried to share the pain of loss that the parents of Jonathan, Thomas and Paddy hold. We know that this is impossible to do, yet our desire is truly sincere because we really would, if we could, take at least some of your pain, Helen and Thomas, so that you don’t have to carry it all alone.”
Helen’s hand reached down and found a small medal at the end of a long chain around her neck. She brought it to her lips and kissed it.
Thomas Snr and Helen, Fr Naughton said, wanted to offer an insight into the character of their three boys.
The twins, the congregation heard, were “lovable rogues”.
“They were fun-loving and energetic. They loved playing with their friends. They were very honest, direct and straight. They said it as it was. They knew how to say sorry and were famous for their hugs.”
Thomas, the dark haired boy, was so proud that he got a Horrid Henry book as a prize in after-schools.
“They loved being praised and adored their mum and dad and family.”
Patrick meanwhile, found it hard to mind his things. His hearing aid was dismantled and put back together many times.
“He put his glasses and the hearing aid on the teacher’s desk in school meticulously each day because that was what his mum had said to do and he wanted to please her. They took care of each other and stood up for each other.”
The day Jonathan came into Helen and Thomas’ lives was, Fr Naughton said “the happiest day of their lives”.
“His grandfather, Da, was in hospital dying in intensive care when Jonathan arrived. They held him up again the glass window for Da to see him. Jonathan seemed to give Da a reason to get better.”
Helen rose to her feet and reached out to her eldest son’s coffin. With a broken heart she lay her head down.
Fr Naughton continued. Jonathan, he said, made the whole family happy.
“He was there when you needed him and could pop up at any stage. He loved all his godchildren and never forgot their birthdays. He’d go up to Dunnes and buy little outfits as birthday presents. All three boys went hunting together. They were lovable and full of fun. They loved their football, hurling and boxing and Jonathan often took them to Doneraile Park to play. It was their favourite place.”
Thomas Snr, rose to his feet and tenderly encouraged his wife to rest her legs.
She did so, sipped from a bottle of Lucozade, caressed the coffins again and whispered her prayers.
“Jonathan got both boys special custom-printed books for Christmas. Patrick brought his to school and was really proud of it.”
There were physical clues to the small boys’ interests too.
Family members, including two small fair haired boys of about four years of age, dressed in identical striped jumpers, came forward to lay two pairs of Still boxing gloves on the coffins.
A photo collage stood in the middle of a number of elaborate floral tributes. There was Paddy and Thomas enjoying some dessert, the brothers in their Spiderman pjs and a sequence of photos showing them drenching each other in an ice bucket challenge. Poignantly, the last picture captured the beautiful boys in a warm embrace.
The only gifts brought to the altar were the bread and wine, by Helen and Thomas Snr. A song that the boys loved, How Long Will I Love You, rang out.
The boys’ sister, Bernadette, spoke briefly. In a hushed voice she told her brothers: “God will be waiting for you at the gates of heaven”.
Waiting outside to escort the twins to their final resting place, Holy Cross cemetery, was a small, green horse-drawn wagon with photos of the boys on either side.
A group of children lead the way down the main street in Charleville, then the wagon, followed by the two small white coffins. Businesses closed their doors as a mark of respect and shoppers bowed their heads.
Jonathan’s coffin meanwhile remained in the church with more family members keeping him company. He was laid to rest 8km away in Kilmallock cemetery later in the day.