Northern Ireland news

Poignant scenes as victim laid to rest on Arranmore Island

The Arranmore ferry boats lay off the island as their late skipper, Lee Early was laid to rest.
Seamus McKinney

THE ARRANMORE ferry boats paid their own poignant tribute to their late skipper Lee Early following his funeral from the St Crone’s Church to his final resting place yesterday.

As the funeral cortege wound its way to the cemetery on Arranmore, the island's two ferry boats lay off Chapel Strand Bay and sounded their horn as a mark of respect.

Then, to the background of the song of Time to Say Goodbye and with flags at half-mast, the blue and red ferries put on a display as they sailed around the bay.

Mr Early (26) drowned after becoming trapped in his car when it slipped off Poolawaddy Pier on Arranmore early on Sunday morning. A 30-year-old man, who was also in the car, managed to free himself and swim to safety.

In a tragic twist it emerged that Mr Early was a volunteer with the Arranmore lifeboat crew which was called out in a desperate bid to rescue him. The dead man’s father, Jimmy is the lifeboat’s coxswain. The victim was also a skipper with the Arranmore ferry, having become the youngest commercial vessel captain in Ireland when he obtained his ticket at the age of 20.

As Mr Early’s coffin was lowered into his grave, a colleague from his Arranmore Lifeboat crew fired a single white flare into the skies over the island.

Islanders made the journey home from around the world for Mr Early’s funeral yesterday. The Arranmore ferry service was forced to put on extra sailings to bring people to the island for the wake and Requiem Mass.

As Mr Early’s funeral cortege made its way from his home to St Crone’s church for Requiem Mass, the crews from the island ferries, the Arranmore Lifeboat team and representatives from lifeboat crews from all over Ireland formed a guard of honour.

They were joined by members of the Irish Coastguard, the Irish Navy and children who used the island ferry to travel to school on a daily basis.

Former Arranmore priest, Fr Liam Boyle, who is also a former lifeboat colleague, told the young people of the island they had a duty to “live well” for Mr Early. Fr Boyle said Mr Early had three communities, the ferry boat and life boat community, his friends and his family.

The Donegal priest said Mr Early had worked a shift as second coxswain for the island lifeboat shortly before the tragedy. He called on the island’s youth to celebrate his life and to take care of each other in the days to come.

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