Belfast model who died suddenly had "heartache that would not go away", mourners told

Family and friends of Belfast model Mairead Leigha O'Neill gathered for her funeral at St Malachy's Church yesterday. Picture by Hugh Russell
Marie Louise McConville

A 21-YEAR-OLD Belfast model who died suddenly had a “heartache that would not go away” following the loss of her mother, mourners at her funeral were told yesterday.

Mairead Leigha O’Neill, from the Markets area of the city, died on Monday.

After recently graduating from university she had also worked as a model. Her work included Belfast Fashion Week and the Carl Frampton fight in Belfast.

Police said they are not treating the young woman’s sudden death as suspicious. It came 10 months after she lost her mother, Karen Pelan, to cancer.

St Malachy’s parish priest Fr Michael McGinnity told mourners that Mairead’s loved ones had been left “numb with grief” following her sudden death.

“It’s also a tragedy that has touched the hearts of people from across the country,” he said.

“On social media tributes have poured in from people who worked with Mairead in the fashion industry, as well as people who met her at charity events. 

“Many who knew her well find it hard to take in that someone who was so full of life is now gone.” 

Fr McGinnity said Mairead was someone who “loved life – there was nothing she wanted more than to be creative, artistic, and to celebrate the gift of life". 

“The last thing she would have wanted was to cause the pain and hurt that many of you are now having to endure," he said.

“As you all know, this time last year Mairead’s mother Karen was losing her long battle with cancer. When Karen eventually died, just before Christmas, it came as a terrible blow to her children. 

“Each of them, Bronagh, Brendan and Mairead, had to set out on their own painful journey of grief. It’s a journey that nothing ever prepares you for in this life, especially if it’s your mother you are grieving for.”

Fr McGinnity said it “was not long before it became clear that Mairead wasn’t coping well at all”.

“Missing her mother became the heartache that would not go away,” he said.

“Throughout this year Mairead struggled to keep her life and work on track. But nothing anyone said or did could make up for the loss of her mother. The inner emptiness of such loss just kept on eating away at Mairead’s mind and heart.  

Fr McGinnity told those gathered they had been “a bright star, shining the light of your compassion and mercy into the darkness of Mairead’s pain and grief”. 

“Could I just say, every act of kindness did matter and it still matters in the sight of God,” he said.

“The last thing God wanted was for Mairead’s life to end in such a tragic way on Monday night. That is why God is heartbroken just as many of you are.” 

Following Requiem Mass, a service took place at Roselawn Crematorium.

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