Tuesday February 22nd was a normal day in the life of the people in Christchurch,
South Island, New Zealand. It was after mid-day and some workers had already gone
for lunch while others were still at work in offices, stores, and colleges. There
were tourists in the city and the Holy Cross Cathedral was an attraction on all their
itineraries. Close by the Cantebury Museum was the place to visit to get an insight
into the history of this part of the world. Locals and city residents were out shopping
or leisurely strolling about their city but all that would change, change utterly,
at 12.51pm on that fateful day.
Earthquakes and tremors were nothing new to the area around Christchurch. Last October
there had been a very strong earthquake close-by but deep in the ground, which prevented
it from causing too much damage. Since then there had been numerous tremors and minor
vibrations but life continued as normal. Owen McKenna, a nurse, was off duty and
his wife, Sarah, and two children, Grace and Tadhg, had gone to visit relatives but
were returning that evening. Owen decided to get some groceries in for the evening
meal before he was due to go on duty. As he parked his car in a car-park at 12.51pm
the earthquake struck.
At home in Ireland life was going on as usual too. Campaigners were on the last few
days of their drive to secure sufficient votes to get their candidate elected. For
the majority it was daily routine and efforts to cope with the economic pressures.
Many households had their own problems to face and to deal with. For the McKenna
family from Brackagh, Emyvale, their lives were to be turned upside down with a phonecall,
which told them that Owen had not turned in for work as expected and described the
destruction of the city by the earthquake. Fears were expressed that he had been
trapped somewhere but the family tried to keep their hopes up that he would turn
up safe and well with a perfectly good explanation why he could not get in touch.
The original call was around 1am Irish time and a night of waiting followed by hours
of daylight and then the dreaded news that his body had been found in his crushed
car in the parking lot. 15 others were also to die in that same parking lot as tall
buildings nearby collapsed on their cars. Formal identification would be carried
out by his grieving wife.
The news of this terrible tragedy soon spread around the entire North Monaghan area
and crowds began to call at the McKenna home to sympathise and offer their support.
Even though Owen has been away from home for a number of years he is still fondly
remembered by his huge circle of friends, who are devastated by his passing.
Owen was born to Teresa, nee Keenan, and the Late Michael McKenna, and he had four
sisters and three brothers – Bernadette, Maria, Kieran, Enda, Angela, Brendan, and
Catherine. Like his siblings, Owen became involved in community activity and played
football for his local club Truagh. He was also involved in Irish dancing and music
and was the life and soul of the party, wherever he went. He had a great sense of
fun and enjoyed life and its challenges. His former school companion, Fabian Murphy
recalls their happy years together at school. They met up again when Owen paid a
visit home in Summer 2009 and Fabian had this to say – ‘He was as funny as ever.
I have known him since we were four-years-old. He was one of the funniest people
ever, even in 2009, the night’s craic we had was just like old times. We’ll really
He was also highly respected by his colleagues at work. He was a clinical co-ordinator
at Christchurch Hospital and he had also worked as a duty manager and a charge nurse.
"The tragic thing is he would have been a brilliant part of the frontline team dealing
with the aftermath of this quake," a former colleague said. ‘He was the complete
`go-to' man’, she said. Indeed it was originally thought that he had gone to the
assistance of the injured in the aftermath of the quake and had been unable to make
contact with family because he was giving his all to help others. That was the type
of him but unfortunately he did not get the chance to do so as he himself was one
of the first victims.
Owen’s mother and two brothers travelled to Christchurch and spent a week with his
wife, Sarah and the children. They attended a special Memorial Service in Christchurch.
A Special Mass, in memory of Owen, was celebrated in the Sacred Heart Church, Carrickroe,
on Saturday morning February 26th at 11am. A massive crowd attended.
Owen’s remains arrived to his home at Brackagh on Sunday March 13th and reposed there
until removal to Carrickroe on Tuesday morning at 11.30 for Noon Requiem Mass followed
by burial afterwards in the adjoining cemetery. Requiem Mass was concelebrated by
Fr. Nolan, Fr. Skinnader, Fr Martin and Fr. Roche. Members of the family and friends
participated in the liturgy. Below we have audio clips of some of the various parts
of the service. Click on the icon for the audio file.
Entrance Introduction Fr.
John’s Homily Exit Hymn
We offer our deepest sympathies to Owen’s family and relatives.