The entire GAA world was plunged into mourning when the news broke of the death of Michaela McAreavey but for Leitrim Senior Football team physio, Barry Mollaghan, the news had extra significance as the Longford man had been the then Michaela Harte's escort at the Rose of Tralee Festival.
Speaking to the Leitrim Observer on Monday, Barry said "It is still a massive shock, I can't take it in. Michaela was truly a lovely person and I was so privileged and lucky to have known her. She was a stunning girl in every way."
Among the thousands of mourners who made thier way to Ballygawley to pay their respects to the Harte and McAreavey families were Leitrim manager Mickey Moran and members of the Leitrim County Board, including Chairman Joe Flynn, while Mohill GAA Club Chairman Kevin Kilrane also attended the wake, both groups recalling the counselling of Mickey Harte following the tragic death of Philly McGuinness last year.
However, few had the close perspective on Michaela McAreavey that Barry Mollaghan had as he acted as her escort at the 2004 Rose of Tralee Festival - "My first meeting with Michaela was at the Rose of Tralee and my impression was that she was full of life, a stunning girl in every way.
"She was very polite and very sincere and I was really impressed with her and we built up a good friendship. Her faith and gaelic football were her passions and I was working with Middlesbrough Football Club at that time so that was slightly frowned upon."
Revealing that he was unaware of the news that Michaela McAreavey had died, Barry recalled that a friend phoned him after 5 pm on Monday, January 10, with the dreadful news - "The phone call came from a friend in Coleraine asking me if I had heard the news and I didn't know what he was taking about. I couldn't take it in, I was in complete and utter shock but then came more phone calls and the confirmation that she had died.
"I went up to the wake on Saturday after the Under 21 game in Ballinamore and the devastation in the entire county was evident everywhere. It was one of the hardest things in my life to do to meet with Michaela's family and friends at the wake.
"Michaela's brothers recognised me and introduced me to her husband John and he gave me a big hug, saying that Michaela always talked of her time at the Rose of Tralee with great fondness. I also met and sympathised with Mickey and Marian Harte. They weren't seeing many people as they are completely shattered."
The support which gathered around the Harte and McAreavey families was also very evident according to Barry - "There was such great support from the nation but particularly from the GAA community and it is a credit to the GAA that they come together in times of hardship. Mickey Harte himself does so much, counselling and talking to people, that people just don't hear about and he is a great samaritan as well as a great GAA man."
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