Hundreds of people lined the streets of Ballinderry in a guard of honour as GAA “hero” Aaron Devlin made his final journey today [Sunday].
The Mid Ulster Hospital physiotherapist lost his week-long battle with the brain virus Meningitis on Thursday and was laid to rest after Requiem Mass at St Patrick’s Ballinderry at 12noon.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness joined the Devlin and Coyle families, local politicians, GAA teams from across south Derry and Tyrone, colleagues and representatives from all of Aaron’s former schools, to say goodbye to the “modest” and “unassuming” young man.
Led into St Patrick’s behind a lone piper, Aaron’s remains, passed teammates linked arm-in-arm in grief after a funeral cortege from his home ground - Ballinderry Shamrocks - which was flying four blacks flags.
“We have all quite literally been brought to our knees,” Ballinderry Parish Priest Father Peter Donnelly told mourners in the packed out chapel and surrounding graveyard.
“This harrowing week has taught a whole new generation in Ballinderry, and their elders, just how precious the gift of life is.
“Precious from its first moments until its end amid the floods of bitter tears - that much has become crystal clear.
“We must now seek consolation and hope for God has not abandoned us in calling Aaron home. He has shown us how to live.
Speaking of a community truly united in grief, he added: “Through all of this we have learned the value of friendship, the power of good example and in the end, serene acceptance of death.
“Just 23, Aaron Devlin has changed the world for many people - the way see and value life itself.”
He spoke of a diligent and driven young man who not only excelled at sport, but worked hard at Derrychrin Primary School, St Mary’s Magherafelt and University of Ulster, going on to become a qualified physiotherapist after finishing a Master’s degree.
“But he was first and foremost a Devlin,” Fr Donnelly added.
A sentiment his brother Ronan echoed when he took to the altar to say some final words about his little brother before he was led out of the church to Foo Fighter’s lyrics “funny how the good ones go”.
“I would like to take a minute to remember some of the good stuff,” he told the congregation. “It’s been a very tough.
“Aaron wasn’t perfect,” he added, “he smashed every car that came on to our street.
“If I could take anything away from this action packed 23 years it’s to smile more and laugh more, appreciate your friends and appreciate your family.
“He was just an ordinary cub. He’s now more than a wee brother, he’s more than a friend. He’s my hero,” Ronan finished, to huge applause.