Leona O'Neill: Tragedy a terrible reminder that life is short, precious and beautiful

The tragedy that ended the lives of three teenagers on St Patrick's night is a parent's worst nightmare and our hearts go out to their families and friends. The loss of these young people should serve as a reminder to us of how precious life is, writes Leona O'Neill

Connor Currie (16), Lauren Bullock (17) and Morgan Barnard (17), who died at the St Patrick's Day disco at the Greenvale Hotel, Cookstown

A DARK cloud hung over Co Tyrone last week with the loss of three beautiful, much-loved teenagers.

Seventeen-year-olds Lauren Bullock and Morgan Barnard and 16-year-old Connor Currie lost their lives while doing something teenagers the land over do every weekend – innocently queuing to get into a disco. As they stood in line that Sunday night they no doubt chatted and laughed with their friends, excited about what the night ahead might bring, about the people they might meet, and the fun they might have.

The night ended so tragically with three precious lives ended in a heartbeat, plunging those who knew and loved them into unimaginable grief.

Lauren was a talented cheerleader, loved by so many who said her smile would light up any room she was in. Speaking at her funeral, Fr David Moore said that she was a girl who was "happiest when she was doing things to help others and gave of herself and her time to do a good deed whenever and wherever she could".

Morgan was a a vivacious, charismatic, vibrant and energetic young man who loved to joke and experiment with his hairstyle. Mourners at his funeral were told that he was "a person of character with a great sense of humour with an abundance of wit, always with a smile on his face".

Connor was a star on the sportsfield, had an infectious smile and was a conscientious young student who had his sights set on doing accountancy. Fr Kevin Donaghy, who spoke at his funeral, explained how the young man had recently gone to the McKenna Cup Final with his Tyrone top on but before leaving he let his Armagh-born mother have a peep to see that he had an Armagh top on underneath the Tyrone one.

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These kids no doubt left their homes earlier that same night, bidding farewell to their mums and dads with a ‘see you later’ as they often do when they are heading out the door in a blur of coats, keys and phones. The fact that their child never came home is unbearable for a parent to even comprehend, much less try to live through.

Scenes of their friends clinging to one another outside church as the coffins were carried in, followed by utterly broken family members, were heartbreaking. That moment in time will be etched in the memories of so many young people who loved the three tragic young students. Their families will never be the same, now such bright lights have gone out. My heart just broke for them.

As parents we do everything in our power to keep our children safe, while giving them the space to become independent young adults.

Events like last week’s tragedy make us want to wrap our children up and protect them from the world, from injury, from harm. We want to keep them safe, close and beside us. The notion of our teenagers being here, full of life, one moment and gone the next is just far too much to bear and the shock of last week’s tragedy could lead us to curb their activities.

The St Patrick’s night horror was awful, tragic, heartbreaking, numbing, shocking and painful for those who lost the most, those around them, the people of Tyrone and the entire community in Northern Ireland.

We can’t learn from that harshest of lessons because we don’t yet know what happened that night. But we can take something from it and that is that life is short and life is precious.

We must appreciate every second of every day, do our best to shine bright for ourselves and those around us and make sure that love and not hate is what motivates us to move forward.

We must treasure our children. We must keep them safe but also allow them to grow. Although we may be tempted to hold them closer still after the events of last week, we have to let them go, let them live, let them have the experiences that will shape them as adults.

We have to let them experience live in all its brilliance, have adventures, have fun, find themselves, challenge themselves, be brave and be good. They must live life to the fullest, for themselves and for every young person who had the opportunity to do exactly that cruelly robbed of them.

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