Tribute to Michaela Harte

January 25th, 2011
by Weeshie Fogarty

Never before have I seen the death of a lady so steeped in the Gaelic Athletic Association having such a massive reaction through the country as did the shocking murder of Michaela McAreavey daughter of Tyrone manager Mickey Harte two short weeks ago.  A death in any family is a terrible experience for those closest to the deceased and only time can come any where near being the great healer. However here was a beautiful young Tyrone girl deeply in love with her new husband John setting out on the greatest voyage of them all. The voyage of life itself. The circumstances and events leading up to her tragic death in far away Mauritius in many ways would seem preposterous and far fetched if described in a novel. A fairy tale wedding, waved off at Dublin airport by her proud parents and the anticipation of a perfect honeymoon in one of the most idyllic sun kissed destinations in the world.  Who could have foreseen the terrible tragedy which awaited this sports mad husband and wife?

The events that led to Michaela's death were so simple. Anyone who has spent time on a foreign sun holiday can associate with her reasons for returning to her bed room wher she met that savage and brutal death. Lying by the pool, sitting at a table you suddenly realize which happens on a regular basis that you have forgotten your book, glasses, sun cream etc. A quick trip back to your room, five minutes later and you are back at the pool side. It's the normal routine and literally part and parcel of a sun holiday. Michaela left her new husband for just a few fateful minutes and to learn that she should be killed for simply going back to her room to get a biscuit from her apartment fridge to have with her cup of tea is beyond the bounds of all reason. I had met Michaela with her father outside Croke Park some years ago. A beautiful vivacious pleasant young lady it was very evident that she had this very special father/daughter relationship. Every father/daughter relationship is different unique and special, in my opinion completely different from that a father/son relationship.  Any GAA man deeply involved in his club or county would have taken his daughters to matches and many other GAA activities. I have done so with my two girls. They have taken part in their earlier years in Scor, club events etc. Nevertheless while my relationship with them is a massive part of my life when they reached a certain age they preferred to as the fellow said "go their own way".

Not so with Michaela and her father. She had been by his side through thick and thin as Tyrone won and lost championships and leagues. Her beautiful laughing face was in my opinion the best know of any lady GAA person in the Association.  Her passion for Tyrone was unbelievable and her contribution and organization behind the scenes is well known to have been immense.  She was always by his side, his shadow, his soulmate. Her appearance on The Late Late Show with Mickey copper fastened what we already knew as she admitted to the nation "I am daddy's girl".  Kieran Shannon that excellent Sunday Tribune sports journalist captured something special and unique about Michaela when he disclosed her predictions in his fascinating book 'Kicking Down Heavens Door' written with her father following Tyrone's historic win in 2003.

Now the first page of the book is a copy of the napkin she wrote upon with a big yellow marker the night after the 1997 Al Ireland minor defeat to Laois, vowing and predicating the following. "That we Mickey and Michaela Harte would win the 1998 All Ireland minor title, the 2000 All Ireland under 21 title and ultimately the 2003 All Ireland senior title". She was correct in all three predictions. She was just thirteen years of age then. This young lady who was to die so tragically far away from friends and family must also be credited with much more in relation to Tyrone's domination of the championship in the following years. Following that 1997 minor defeat Mickey Harte informed the players and county board that he was stepping down as manager after seven years in that position.  A number of players spoke to Michaela and so enthusiastic and passionate was this thirteen year old girl as she pleaded with her father to stay on that within minutes he had changed his mind. Like all daughters she had him in the palm of her little hand.  She thought the Tyrone panel the National Anthem; she asked each player for his favourite song which she included on a CD to be played before all major games. She had full access to the Tyrone dressing room, was present with her father at all training sessions and laid out the milk and biscuits for the players. She was as integral part of the Tyrone set up as any office or selector. Michael's total involvement was something which I have never before experienced.

Sean Kelly MEP and past president of the GAA knew father and daughter very well. I met Sean before he began his journey to the funeral up North and I put it to him that such an out pouring of national grief for a GAA lady was unprecedented. "You are absolutely correct and particularly the circumstances of her death could not have been more tragic. And then she was so much involved with her father in the break through years of Tyrone football and he often spoke about her. She was by his side the whole time and was actually an inspiration to him and to the team. I knew her well when I was GAA president and she came on the All Stars tour with us to Hong Kong in 2004 and I got to know her much better. And of course she was also involved in the Rose of Tralee and I also met her there. She had a wonderful personality and was a very religious girl and I suppose in one sense and her husband has said she would be his angel from now on and you know Weeshie that is what she was.  Maybe she was too good for this world in some respects but the manner in which she was murdered by those thugs struck a cord with everybody in Ireland and beyond".

I had often heard older people remark at a young death that the person was too good for this world as Sean had remarked. So what did he mean by this. "If she lived of course we would not be saying that but she will now be forever be remembered in her perfect state in the sense that she died just after the happiest day of her life. A beautiful bride, a lovely girl and also possessed in some respects the qualities she had which some people may regards as old religious qualities and beliefs and values She had those strongly and she was very proud of them and at the same time these did not inhibit her in any way going through her you life. So in that respect she was probably unique and distinctive. I rang Mickey when I heard of her terrible death and the one thing he did say is "we could try to get over it some way if it was natural causes but when foul play was involved it makes it very difficult". And this was the foulest of foul play".

How Mickey Harte response to this terrible tragedy is not a question lightly considered. The thoughts of him not returning to manage the team at some stage which Michaela adored is hard to believe. It may be the therapy which this exemplary generous and very courteous man will need as he his wife and sons attempt to get on with their lives. It's going to be so difficult. For parents to bury a child is life's cycle in reverse and to experience a death in a violet way such as this is simply unimaginable. For me Michaela personified the great work women contribute to the association and in many respects she has set the standards for others to follow, not just ladies but each and every on of us. What better way for us in Kerry to remember her.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom