Northern Ireland news

Families of people who died during Covid-19 pandemic come together on Day of Reflection

Brenda Doherty, pictured with her 82-year-old mother Ruth Burke, who was the first woman to pass away in Northern Ireland from Covid-19 in March 2020
Marie Louise McConville

The families of people who died during the Covid-19 pandemic gathered at Belfast City Hall on Thursday to remember their loved ones.

The gathering took place on the third anniversary of the start of the first UK lockdown, which was announced by then British Prime Minister Boris Johnston on March 23, 2020.

As a result, the families of those who passed away during the period - not just from Covid-19 - were subject to strict guidelines regarding wakes and funerals.

Brenda Doherty lost her mother Ruth Burke to Covid-19 on March 24, 2020.

The 82-year-old from Newtownabbey was the first woman in the north to die as a result of Coronavirus.

However, her family did not get to see their mother either beforehand or in the coffin, were not allowed to have a wake and were not allowed to have a full funeral.

Ciaran Ward lost both his parents to Covid-19 within 12 hours of each other.

Strabane couple Bredge and Owen, who were both 69 and had been married for 49 years, passed away in November 2020.

Brenda and Ciaran have since set up a community group called Memory Stones of Love, which allows people to dedicate a stone to their loved one.

Thirty families whose loved ones died during the pandemic were invited to Belfast City Hall for a reception with the mayor.

Afterwards, memory stones were put on display in the grounds.

During the gathering, relatives held their stones and remembered their loved ones while poetry was read and musical performances took place.

Speaking to The Irish News, Brenda Doherty said the group currently had more than 300 memory stones but "we know there were far more people than that lost their lives.

"We want to make everyone aware we are out there," she said.

"I see today as an opportunity to celebrate, remember and reflect on the people that we lost.

"People are still living with this and it is never going to go away. Our loved ones are never going to come back.

"It's about us coming together collectively".

Northern Ireland news