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The Isle of Barra - remembering and recovering after the loss of their Island girl

By Amy Welch

As I boarded the 5-hour ferry to the Isle of Barra I felt a sense of apprehension and sadness. The island is without doubt one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen but the reason for my visit to this picture postcard place was so utterly tragic.

This tiny outer Hebridean island off the coast of Scotland only has a population of around 1200 and one of them was the 14-year-old Eilidh MacLeod.

She was an islander in the truest sense of the world but as her Great Uncle Donald Manford told me ‘we must allow our children to chase their dreams.’

‘Eilidh’s life was defined by her ability to enjoy and to excel…and while we instinctively want to protect, nurture and care it's important not only to allow our children to chase their dreams but to assist them in doing it.’

– Donald Manford, Eilidh's Great Uncle

For Eilidh one of those dreams was seeing her pop singer Ariana Grande perform in concert. She travelled to Manchester to watch the singer perform on the 22nd May with her friend Laura MacIntyre. Eilidh didn’t survive and Laura was seriously injured. In a place described by many as ‘at the edge of the world’ this loss seemed so much crueller. Its beaches resemble the white sands of the caribbean and its waters are crystal clear. It was easy for me to see how the beauty of this island turned Eilidh into the beautiful girl that she was and I was truly overwhelmed by the sense of love and community on the island.

Laura MacIntyre & Eilidh MacLeod

I met one of Eildih’s friends,17-year-old Millie Denehy who shared a passion for piping with Eilidh. She told me how Eilidh was an amazing piper who practiced more than anyone else. It is a perhaps a sign of my age that I don’t really do ‘snapchat’ but Millie said Eilidh had been 'snapchatting' her all week about the concert and how excited she was. She takes comfort from knowing how happy Eilidh was in those final days. She was a girl with a beautiful smile and an infectious personality who brought joy and happiness to everyone she met.

Eilidh MacLeod & Millie Denehy

Two weeks after the attack Eilidh was laid to rest in Barra- the first Manchester attack victim to be buried. Her body was flown home on a small chartered plane which landed on the island's beach which is also its runway and a piper poignantly led a procession to the shore. The priest who carried out her funeral service, Father John Paul Mackinnon told me he wanted it to be a celebration of life.

‘The people of Manchester have really reached out to Barra….we sometimes feel we are insignificant...we are just at the edge of the world, a beautiful little island catapulted right into the centre of the world…but we felt this huge feeling of love, a big arm of love just enwrapping round every single islander here.’

– Father John Paul Mackinnon
Funeral of Eilidh MacLeod

I didn’t meet a single person on the island who wasn’t touched in some way by the loss of Eilidh. They are now preparing to welcome home Laura whose parents tell me she has been making remarkable progress in her physiotherapy. Her injuries will take time to heal but Barra is a place where people are doing all they can do heal each other after the horror of what happened. I board the ferry home feeling a strange sense of guilt. These beautiful girls came to my city of Manchester to have a good time and were the victims of an act of pure evil. Our hearts are broken in Manchester but we will not let this beat us or define us and all the lovely people of Barra will forever be in our thoughts.

  • "Manchester: 100 Days After The Attack" will air on 29th August on ITV at 9pm

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