TOUCHING tributes were made earlier today by classmates of a five-year-old girl who tragically died after a canoe capsized on a Ross-shire sea loch.
Hundreds of mourners paid their respects as an emotional service was held this afternoon for Grace Mackay in her home village of Muir of Ord. Her devastated parents Garry and Wendy were in tears as they followed her tiny coffin out of East Church with Grace’s brave eight-year-old sister Callie, who swam ashore with her father to raise the alarm following the accident last month.
Two brothers, Ewen (5) and Jamie Beaton (2) also died when the canoe overturned on Loch Gairloch on Sunday, August 26. A search continues for their father, Ewen (32).
Mourners, many wearing an item of pink clothing in memory of the youngster, watched a poignant film of Grace singing Baa, Baa Black Sheep and dancing to songs on the television before the service began.
Grace’s immediate family arrived as the Carly Rae Jepson song Call Me Maybe, one of Grace’s favourites, was played in the church.
The opening hymn was aptly Amazing Grace, before a touching tribute was read by Rev Scott Polworth in the church, which was decorated by Callie with Moshi Monsters, a favourite toy of the two sisters.
Rev Polworth read a list of comments made by her classmates at nearby Tarradale Primary, including: "She was always smiling. She was a good friend. She was a kind girl who let me play with her. She had a good imagination. She was fun to play with. She was funny to be with."
He added: "Grace Margaret Mackay was born in 2006 and from the moment she opened those beautiful eyes of hers she brought joy and laughter to Garry, Wendy and Callie.
"Grace and Callie were inseparable, like twins, a bond of love.
"Grace had an infectious smile and a gracious sweet nature. She was a bright and determined girl who was up on her feet and walking before her first birthday.
"And she recently remembered her grandparents telephone number and put it to good use.
"She brought determination and enthusiasm to all she did. She went to Tarradale Nursery and primary school, giving others the privilege to meet the bright, caring, thoughtful girl that Garry and Wendy loved. We are so glad that they shared her with the world."
Rev Polworth added: "Grace lived a life full of fun. If she wasn’t playing with Callie she would be playing with wee pal Tyler or her other friends.
"She loved animals and loved watching Peppa Pig and Spongebob. She loved spending time with her sister. She loved her dad and loved her mum, the best mummy in the world, as Grace would call her.
"She loved and was loved. Although she was with us for far too short a time, she brought love and happiness to others."
He also said she always put others first before reading a poem – Young Life Cut Short by an unknown author – before a short tribute was made by her distraught grandad, John Mackay, who said: "We remember the very first time we took her home from hospital and how proud we were to be grandparents for a second time… God we were chuffed."
He fondly recalled: "Those telephone calls, she would call first thing in the morning just before work and then again at supper time."
Rev Polworth finished the service with a prayer, which referred to the tragic accident and said: "We pray for those who have had great sorrow over the last few days."
After singing He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands, Grace’s coffin was led from the church with her parents and Callie bravely walking behind her as the Beyonce song Halo was played.
The internment was held in nearby Urray Cemetery.
A huge rescue operation was launched after Callie and her 36-year-old father swam ashore following the canoe capsizing.
Rescuers said Mr Mackay described how his pal Ewen Beaton (32) disappeared while the remaining children were bobbing in the sea.
The search for Mr Beaton, of Resaurie, near Beauly, continues.
His sons Ewen and Jamie were plucked from the sea, as was Grace, but they died that night in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Grace, who was initially taken to Broadford Hospital on Skye before being transferred to Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow, died the following day.
Donations at the service were for the two hospitals and HM Coastguard.
A service for the two boys takes place on Friday at Inverness Crematorium.