Mourners gather to say goodbye to Gracie Leigh
Crowds of mourners have gathered to pay their respects at the funeral of a Larne teenager.
Gracie Leigh Gordon, 14, died last week after accidentally falling into the Inver River.
A major search and rescue operation took place in an effort to save Gracie Leigh, but she sadly passed away in hospital on Tuesday night.
A funeral service was held this afternoon at St Macnissi's Church in Larne town centre.
Pupils from St Killian's College, where Gracie Leigh was a Year 10 pupil, joined members of the emergency services to form a guard of honour.
Speaking at the service, parish priest Father Francis O'Brien said: "Since news broke surrounding the tragic event that resulted in Gracie Leigh’s death almost a week ago, her family have experienced both from within and beyond this community a tremendous outpouring of compassion.
"They draw comfort from the lovely comments and texts posted on social media describing Gracie Leigh as a beautiful child, one blessed with a bubbly, vibrant personality. They also appreciate deeply the numerous expressions of sympathy, prayers of condolence that have been offered up for them, and simple yet moving gestures such as the laying of a wreath in her memory close to the spot where this tragedy unfolded."
Fr O'Brien went on to recount a "snapshot of memories" from Gracie Leigh's life.
"Gracie Leigh made a dramatic entrance into the world on September 14, 2005, and her presence was felt wherever she went from that day forward. She was a smiley happy baby, a joy to be around," he told the congregation.
"At the age of five she developed a blood disorder, spent a considerable amount of time in hospital and wasn’t permitted to engage with life and play like other children her own age. For instance, she was distraught at not being able to ride her bike unless she agreed to wearing her bicycle helmet at all times. She was so proud of how brave she had become in dealing with her condition and told everybody who would listen to her about how bloodwork and needles were 'no problem'.
"She was a very energetic child who loved to practice her 'gin nastics' as she would have pronounced it, always twirling and birling and regarded herself as very much the tomboy. Then overnight she did a full 360 degree turn and was transformed into Gracie Leigh Glam Girl or Miss Sassy, who always did her make-up and hair to perfection. One of her teachers commented that 'she was so strikingly beautiful, that even if you didn’t know her, you could not fail to notice her'.
"Some of the words used in the last few days to describe Gracie Leigh are that she was caring and fiercely loyal, thoughtful and sensitive. She had a hug for everyone, possessed a natural sense of fairness and was constantly sticking up for the underdog.
"She will always be remembered by her family and all those closest to her with great love and affection. Her mammy summed up Gracie Leigh perfectly: she was like a Galaxy Minstrel; she had a hard-outer shell, but was soft in the middle.
"Although Gracie Leigh’s life has been cut short and she has died too soon, it has however allowed us to see what a remarkable impression she has make upon all those around her. If her friends wish to honour her memory, and her legacy of good deeds, motivated by her own personal faith and love for Jesus, I believe Gracie Leigh would be asking them right now to give one another big hugs, to look out for one another and ensure that no-one who is sad, be it today, tomorrow, or next week, is left to cope on their own."
It was her family's wish that the Mass celebrating Gracie Leigh's life take place in the church in which she was baptised, mourners heard. "She is walking in the presence of the Lord, where she will experience endless joy, because waiting to welcome and receive her will be a sea of familiar smiling faces, in the person of her uncles Neil, and Chris, and her beloved dog Bud," Fr O'Brien added.
He went on to extend his sympathies to Gracie Leigh's family, including her mother Danielle and father Alex, his partner Kerry, Gracie Leigh's sister Charlie, and her brother Mark.
A horse-drawn carriage conveyed Gracie Leigh's remains to Larne Cemetery following the service.
Larne YMCA, which Gracie Leigh attended, opened its doors for a few hours following the service to offer support to young people in the area.
A number of Gracie Leigh's school-friends spoke about the teenager, with one noting it was "hard to believe" she was gone.
Another shared memories of a bubbly young girl who was fiercely loyal. "She was really into make up and hair, and she loved her dog," she said.
"If anyone was being cheeky to any of her friends, she would always stick up for them."