THE son of Concepta Leonard waved goodbye as the coffin of his mother who was killed on Monday in a brutal murder at her home near Maguiresbridge was placed outside St. Mary's Church in Brookeborough.
Hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral of the 51 year old who was stabbed to death in her home by her former partner Peadar Phair.
Despite sustaining serious injuries in the attack, Conor, who has Down's Syndrome, helped to carry his mother's coffin, something he was determined to do ahead of this morning's service.
A number of musicians played traditional Irish music as the coffin was placed outside the church in a touching tribute to their former music tutor.
The funeral heard how there had been “evil lurking in the shadow" on Monday in a murder that has been described by her grieving family as “appalling and horrific.”
As Miss Leonard’s coffin was carried inside, pupils from Jones Memorial Primary School, where she had worked as a cook, performed a guard of honour. St. Comhghall’s College pupils also stood in remembrance of the woman who had taught them music. Students from a number of Irish traditional music groups also stood outside holding musical instruments.
Father Brendan Gallagher, who conducted the service, referred to the tragic events that unfolded earlier this week when he spoke of “evil lurking in the shadow, seeking to destroy life.”
“But in that moment of madness, Conor cared for and protected his mum,” he told mourners.
“That is the reality”, said Fr. Gallagher, “the horror of evil intent.”
“But since that time, this family, this community have stood in the light, to confront, to overcome the dark shadows that seek to destroy life.”
He added: “In such a horrific death which Connie experienced, the constant question is Why?
Why should such a terrible thing happen to such a beautiful person?
“Where is our God in this moment of evil? Could this tragedy have been avoided. Circumstances could have been different.
“Many people experience and express feelings of regret. If I had been there to protect. If I had done something differently.”
He said Ms. Leonard would not want family or friends, thinking or feeling that way.
“Because for her, she had Conor with her, and that was the most important person she wanted with her at that moment.
“The circumstances and the tragedy of Connie’s death, cannot destroy the love that was in her heart and soul. The love that all of you, family and friends, received from her,” he said.
He told mourners that the funeral was to celebrate all that was “loving, tender and beautiful in Connie’s life” along with “gifts and blessings and memories that we cherish and hold close to our hearts.”
“Each one of us here, from the very young, to the old, experienced the beauty of the love that radiated from the heart of Connie’s life.
“She possessed so many beautiful gifts, but she carried them in a very unassuming, humble way. Maybe even feeling a lack of confidence in her own gift and talent,” he said.
Ms. Leonard was born into a family home that was filled with the sound of music and from the age of six she travelled with her father Dinnie to music sessions and fleadhs all over Ireland, winning three All Ireland Medals in accordion and piano.
“It was a gift she wanted to share with others, bringing so many young people into the love of the traditional music and culture. Whether it was here in Brookeborough, or Donagh or Lisnaskea. All over the county and beyond. With her energy and enthusiasm, her infectious smile and the twinkle in her eye, she has left a legacy of musical talent for generations to come,” he said.
The music during the service was led by a range of people who were touched by the life and musical talents of Ms. Leonard.
“It is a wonderful tribute to her that so many gifted musicians are here today to play a slow air, a lament and also a life filled reel or jig,” said Fr. Gallagher.
The readings were read by Ms. Leonard’s brother Kieran and Fergal and the prayers of the faith were led by her cousins.
Symbols which represent the many qualities of Connie’s life were brought forward, including her All Ireland Fleadh medals, her accordion, Rosary beads, book of the Gospels, a symbol of her cooking skills and a family photograph, presented by Conor.
Fr. Gallagher said the death of Ms. Leonard's mother Moira was a great loss to her but that “the absence of a mother’s love was reclaimed when she gave life to her own son Conor.”
“She was a devoted mother and together they shared a special bond of love. Conor was at the heart of everything in her life and together they developed friendships and lived experiences that most of us could only dream about. Conor had complete faith and trust in her and she as a mother gave him the confidence to live an independent life.”
One of Ms. Leonard's gifts was her love of cooking and baking and through her work in schools, sharing her love and gift, it was something she took great pride in.”
Addressing mourners, Fr. Gallagher said: “Conor is our future and our reason to hope.”
“Thankfully he survived the ordeal of Monday, because he is the one who will lead us all on the journey of recovery. His love and his affection will be a source of healing for all, he is the light that will renew the spirit of hope in our lives,” he said.