Republicans who murdered and secretly buried a Co Down teacher more than 30 years ago snuffed out a life of many wholesome qualities, his funeral has heard.
Family and friends of Seamus Ruddy - a “Disappeared” victim of the Northern Ireland Troubles whose remains were recovered in a French forest last month - finally got the chance to say farewell at the service in his home city of Newry.
The 32-year-old was found at Pont-de-l’Arche, near Rouen in northern France.
Mr Ruddy was abducted in Paris in 1985 by the republican paramilitary group the INLA. He was murdered and then secretly buried.
In his homily, Bishop John McAreavey told the funeral mass at St Catherine’s Cathedral in Newry that his family had suffered years of not knowing.
“Whatever about the circumstances of his death, one thing is certain - his death represented the snuffing-out of a life that had many wholesome qualities.
“It also cut off the promise of a new life in France,” he said.
“A family account of that time refers to letters and phone calls from Seamus, visits to him and plans to visit. ‘And then’, the account states, ‘there was nothing’.”
Ahead of burying Mr Ruddy in Monks cemetery in Newry, where his parents John and Molly lie, his relatives were supported at the funeral service by the families of other Disappeared victims.
Anne Morgan, the teacher’s sister, said the other Disappeared relatives now felt like part of her family.
She also thanked everyone who had been involved in the long search.
“We will be forever grateful to you all,” she said.
The Independent Commission for the Location of Victims’ Remains (ICLVR) recovered Mr Ruddy’s remains.
The ICLVR was set up during the peace process by the UK and Irish governments to find the bodies of those secretly buried, mainly by the IRA, in the 1970s and 1980s.
Three of the 16 Disappeared victims are still to be recovered.
The remains of Columba McVeigh, Joe Lynskey and Robert Nairac have yet to be found.
Candles representing those three victims were carried to the front of the cathedral at the start of the service.
Prayers were said for their families; for the ICLVR team; and for the individual or individuals who provided the information to the commission that led to the recovery of Mr Ruddy’s body.
Sinn Fein MP Mickey Brady, a childhood friend of Mr Ruddy, was among the hundreds of mourners.
Mr Ruddy was a former member of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) - the political wing of the INLA.
It is believed he was murdered amid a dispute with INLA members about an arms dump.
“In the years since his death, Seamus’s family and friends kept a long vigil,” said Bishop McAreavey.
“They grieved and prayed, they appealed for public support, which they hoped would lead to the recovery of his remains.
“They did this with the support of other families of the Disappeared and, in recent years, the support of civil authorities in Ireland and in France.
“In recent years they rejoiced with the families of the Disappeared whose prayers were answered. They continue, as they did at the opening of this mass, to reach out to those families who are still waiting.
“On Thursday, Seamus’s family and friends welcomed him home to Newry.
“They were finally been able to do what they always wanted to do - to have a wake, to celebrate a funeral mass for Seamus and to say a personal and dignified farewell to him through the funeral liturgy.
“And in the months and years ahead they will be able to visit the grave where Seamus lies.”