Sunday, 2 December 2007

Mother and her five children buried after dying in a blaze in County Tyrone

The police suspect Arthur McElhill of setting fire to his house and killing himself, his partner Lorraine McGovern and their five children - Caroline, Sean, Belinda, Clodagh and James. May the family find peace

Children weep for lost classmates

Several hundred people attended requiem mass at the Sacred Heart Church in Northern Ireland's County Tyrone town, but numbers were nowhere near what had been expected.

Arthur McElhill, 39, his partner Lorraine McGovern, 30 and their children - Caroline, 13, Sean, seven, Bellina, four, Clodagh, 18 months and James nine month - died together when fire engulfed their three-bedroom, end of terrace house.

Police are treating the deaths as murder and suspect Mr McElhill of starting the fire after they found petrol had been sprinkled around the house and set alight.

The McElhill and McGovern families disagreed for a fortnight over where the family should be buried.

Eventually it was decided a single service would be held for the family but that Mr McElhill would be buried separately from his family.

He will be buried in Ederney, County Fermanagh, his partner will be buried with the children at Corlough, County Cavan, in the Irish Republic.

Speaking during the service, parish priest Monsignor Joseph Donnelly referred back to the Omagh bombing saying a community may have experience of tragedy but could never become accustomed to it.

He said: "To lose an entire family unit in one instance is unimaginable. It is a devastation for the families immediately connected. It is a loss so total that words fail to describe the immensity of the events."

Looking down at the five white coffins of the children - each with a single white carnation upon it - and flanked by the coffins of their parents, he added: "The visual impact of what lies before us leaves us in no doubt about the horrible reality."

Children from St Conor's primary school, next door to the fire blackened house in Lammy Crescent, and where two of the children were pupils, formed a guard of honour as the coffins were carried from the church.

Sombre faced, many wept for their lost classmates. So too did the pupils from the Sacred Heart college which the oldest child attended.

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