Tears flowed for a young GAA player, laid to rest next to his father, as a small community gathered in grief to comfort a family rocked by a tragedy, writes Sean O’Riordan.
Philip Leahy, 22, died on August 6 after suffering a cardiac arrest following a swimming accident in the US a few days earlier.
He was buried beside his father, Philip ‘Philly’ Leahy, who had died three years ago after suddenly becoming ill on the campaign trail while contesting local government elections.
The huge crowd which turned up to pay their last respects to J1 student Philip showed the immense respect and support being given to the young man’s mother, Ann, and his brothers William and Patrick.
The requiem Mass was held in Church of the Nativity of Our Lady in the small north Cork village of Ballyhooly.
Patrick told mourners that when his father died he little expected, three years later, to be in the same church mourning the passing of his younger brother.
“We were more than brothers, we were friends,” he said, and described Philip as a person “who always had a smile on his face” and had the “will to win”.
Patrick said dual player Philip was voted the most improved player in the local GAA team in 2011 and rose last year to captain Ballyhooly to a county title “at the tender age of 21”, also noting his father had also captained the team many years earlier.
“He always had a smile on his face and wanted to chat to people,” he said. “Philip made an astounding impact on everyone he met. He’d do anything to put a smile on people’s faces.”
Patrick also recalled that Philip had said, at the end of a eulogy to his late father: “This is not goodbye, we’ll just see you later,” and this was the motto the remaining members of the family had adopted.
William, meanwhile, thanked the staff at the US hospital who’d tried to save Philip. He said the hospital did everything it could and added: “The level of care blew us away,” William said.
He said Philip’s J1 student friends “were a credit to their parents” as they never left his side after the accident and also thanked all brother’s fellow students at CIT who had rallied around.
He also thanked the many people who had crowd-funded more than €93,000 in record time to defray medical expenses and the repatriation of his body.
“We have no words to say how we appreciate what you’ve done for us,” William said.
At the beginning of the Mass, a number of mementoes of Philip’s life were taken to a memorial table inside the church. They included his Ballyhooly GAA jersey, a picture of him as captain of the Junior B County Football team, and his Diploma Level 7 in Recreation and Leisure awarded by CIT.
Fr Patrick Scanlan told the family they were grieving not only for what had been lost, “but also for all that could have been”.
This article first appeared on the Irish Examiner.