Before Portadown Pikers victim Daryl Burke was laid to rest yesterday – following the frantic 16-day search for his body at Lough Ree in County Westmeath – his wife Louise attached a printed antenatal scan of their unborn daughter to his lapel.
Also included in his coffin was his favourite picture of his three young sons – William (7), Callum (4) and Brooklyn (2) - and one of Daryl with Louise.
“Daryl lived for his family,” she said. “We adored him. He was so proud of us all. When we discovered on Christmas Eve that we were expecting our first daughter – the 10th of May is the date – he was absolutely over the moon.
“We decided not to tell anybody, but Daryl couldn’t contain his joy. He kept the secret for less than an hour, and then spilled the beans to the family. Now, everybody knows. It’s heart-breaking that he’ll never see her. But her scan will remain forever with him in spirit and we know he would have appreciated that.”
Louise, along with Daryl’s parents Aubrey and Denise, his brother Michael and sister Julie and her brother Denver, spent the entire 16 days at Lough Ree until the Boyne Rescue and Fisherman’s Service – backed up by the Community Rescue Service – finally located his body around 3pm on Saturday, about 500 metres from the spot where the anglers’ boat was discovered earlier in the week.
“It was such a relief to find him and at last be able to bring his body home,” said Louise from the sitting room of their Killicomaine home, filled with family pictures – a large one of their three sons, and one of Daryl and Louise embracing on their wedding day.
“Those 16 days were so frustrating, so draining,” she added. “At times I felt like giving up, and at other times I prayed that Daryl would be discovered on one of the islands on Lough Ree, waiting for us to come and find him.”
Daryl’s brother Michael said, “The rescue teams never flinched from their belief that Daryl would be found. They never gave up hope. They were so determined, so professional. We’ll never forget their support, the support of the Garda, of our extended family, the people who came almost daily from Portadown, and the wonderful local people from the Lough Ree area and nearby Athlone.”
Louise continued, “I was never in that part of Ireland in my life. Yet, they provided us with food and supplies. The Hodson Bay Hotel accommodated us, putting me in a room where I could overlook the lough. Links have been forged with those wonderful people which can never be broken. Thank God for them and the fact that the rescuers found Daryl.”
She looked back on their lives together, including when he defeated testicular cancer 10 years ago and feared that he would never father a child. Then they had three wonderful sons and that eagerly-anticipated daughter is on the way. And during that time, he also had part of a lung removed when a ‘hole’ was discovered. His sense of humour and his thanks were encapsulated when he ran a cancer charity marathon, dressed as a pair of giant testicles!
“Those health scares made him stronger,” said Louise. “They made him determined to focus on the things that matter in life – his family first and foremost, his health. He worked hard as a self-employed landscape gardener to support the family and established a great home for us. He was so devoted to bringing up our children that he wouldn’t let me go out to work. He insisted that I worked hard enough being a home-maker, and that a young family like ours needed their mother at home.
“He loved being part of the Pikers, and it’s so ironic that, having survived cancer and a lung condition, Mother Nature should take him when he was pursuing his favourite hobby. His death is such a loss.
“I was able, with the help of my family and friends, to endure the 16 days, although lying awake at night, looking out at the lough and thinking he was out there all alone, was hard to take.
“I’ve been kept busy with making the funeral arrangements. And the boys – who still play their games and are as boisterous as ever – keep me occupied and buoyed up. But they miss their dad so much. They say he’s a star in the sky. The days and years ahead without him are going to be so difficult, especially when our wee daughter comes along.
“Daryl and I had a wonderful life together. But it wasn’t long enough.”