WHAT was to be a special first Christmas together as newly-weds ended in tragedy with the sudden death of a young bride on Christmas Day. Caroline Niblock (25), a former Dromore High School student, was found dead in the early hours of December 25 by her husband of five months, Alan Niblock.

The couple had been preparing to spend their first Christmas together in a new home in the Rockcorry community of County Monaghan, where Alan's family live. They had also been looking forward to a second 'Christmas' on the Sunday when Caroline's parents, Helen and Ronnie Coulter, were due to visit to celebrate Ronnie's birthday.

Tragically, both celebrations were cancelled and, instead, preparations were being made for Caroline's funeral service at First Ballybay Presbyterian Church, Monaghan, on Monday, December 28.

A former pupil of Donaghcloney Primary School, Caroline had married Alan in Moira Baptist Church on July 10 - and the pastor, Richard Garnham, took part in the packed funeral service at First Ballybay, along with the local minister, the Rev William Buchanan.

The tragedy has sent shock waves around the district, particularly in Ballyknock Road, Hillsborough, where Caroline's parents still live. She was also a much-loved sister of two brothers, James and William.

Following her education at Dromore High School, Caroline went on to pursue a career in childcare, working as a nursery assistant at First Steps Nursery, Lisburn, and obtaining a certificate in Early Childhood Studies and a cache Diploma in the same subject at evening classes at Lisburn College of Further and Higher Education.

She had recently been delighted to use these qualifications to secure another job working with children in Monaghan, closer to her new home.

Paying a heartfelt tribute to her daughter, Mrs Helen Coulter said Caroline loved working with children and had "a gift from God" in her ability to relate to her young charges.

"Caroline just loved her career and she was brilliant with the children she worked with," said Mrs Coulter. "She could bring herself to their level and easily communicate with them. She was enjoying her new post and her new life in Monaghan. We are all devastated and we don't know what caused her sudden death."

Mrs Coulter said her daughter had suffered from epilepsy since she was nine months old, but had not had a seizure in over a year. A post-mortem has been carried out, but results are not expected for several months. There is no suggestion that her epilespsy has been linked to her death.

Over a thousand mourners attended the funeral service at which Caroline's father, Ronnie, paid a moving tribute and her younger brother William read a poem which he had composed in his sister's honour.

In his address, Rev William Buchanan spoke warmly of Caroline's "vibrant, outgoing personality" and of a young woman whom he said had stood out for her genuine concern for others.

Mr Buchanan said despite her short time living in the local community, Caroline had made many friends and had become involved in the life of the church youth club and Bible study group.

"Caroline and Alan were committed Christians and they did all they could to reach out to others," said Mr Buchanan. "Caroline was always smiling and for such a young person, she had a very mature outlook on life and showed a very real, mature concern for others. Her Christian concern was truly remarkable and was portrayed in a very personal way to me just two days before Christmas when I received a card from her which included her usual little words of encouragement."

Mr Buchanan said he decided to take John Chapter 10 as the text for his address because these Biblical verses spoke of the comfort of Jesus to his disciples - and he wanted to convey the comfort of Christ to Caroline's family, friends and the wider congregation.

"Caroline's family has been sustained by a very strong Christian faith and I know this is helping them at this time of great sadness," he added.

Caroline was laid to rest in the adjoining burial ground and family flowers were placed on the grave. Donations is lieu of flowers are being sent to The Cystic Fibrosis Unit at Belfast City Hospital, and cheques made out to Cystic Fibrosis Unit (BCH) can be sent to her parents' address at 20 Ballyknock Road, Hillsborough, Co Down BT26 6EF.

Caroline's husband Alan said this was a cause close to his wife's heart as she has two cousins who suffer from the disease.