Olympic medallist Darren Sutherland was today remembered not only as a loved sporting hero but as a kind and generous family man deeply committed to his community.
Giants of the boxing world rubbed shoulders with grieving family, friends and fans at the funeral of the 27-year-old Irish fighter, found hanged in his London flat a week ago.
Father Declan Hurley, parish priest of St Mary’s Church in Navan, Co Meath, said Darren’s distraught family would willingly swap all his success to have him back in their arms.
He told mourners a terrible darkness had fallen on the Sutherland home last Monday, and the tragic death had ripped the family’s heart.
“Nobody is more proud of Darren’s achievements than his family,” Fr Hurley said.
“Yet today, faced with the horrible, painful reality that Darren’s young life has been brought to a tragic end, they would willingly swap all those achievements to have their son, brother, the one they love, back in their arms.”
Fr Hurley said Darren – nicknamed the dazzler because of his show-grabbing performances in the ring – had earned the admiration of the country when he clinched bronze in Beijing last year.
But it was his beaming smile that had won the nation’s heart, he said.
Among the hundreds of grieving mourners were Darren’s parents Tony and Linda and sisters Nicole and Shaneika.
Representatives from the sporting world included Olympic winning fighter Michael Carruth, champion boxer Jim Rock, Martin Rogan, Mick Dowling, John Joe Nevin and Olympic athlete Eamonn Coghlan.
Kenny Egan, who travelled to the Beijing games with Darren and clinched silver, also attended wearing the Irish squad tracksuit.
Darren’s trainer Brian Lawrence did not attend the funeral while manager Frank Maloney, who discovered his body, was told not travel due to ill health.
Fighters young and old from St Saviour’s Olympic Boxing Academy in Dublin, where Darren spent 10 years honing his famed skills, sat near the top of the church.
Dressed in black club t-shirts they lined the grounds in a guard of honour as Darren’s coffin was taken from the chapel.
In his homily, Fr Hurley painted a picture of a young man who despite his success remained grounded, and did not let fame go to his head.
“Wherever Darren went, his gentle, kind, modest and generous heart endeared him to everybody,” the parish priest said.
“His success in Beijing obviously brought great demands, but he responded generously, whether it was offering encouragement to young boxers, speaking to students in his former school, or visiting sick children in hospital.”
He said that despite being known for his top class boxing skills across the country, to his family, Darren was a loving and caring son and brother.
“Darren was much more than the dazzler who captivated in the ring. He was a loving son, everything an older brother could be, and a good friend,” he said.
“The young man who in the public’s eye was a sporting hero, was in his family a loved and loving son and brother.”
Touching on the tragic circumstances surrounding his death, Fr Hurley said a terrible darkness had shrouded the Sutherland family.
He said words of comfort were meaningless.
“Our silence betrays a deep uneasiness as we all ponder the question – why?” Fr Hurley said.
“The question we hesitate to ask out loud because we know it is a terrifying question and we fear that there is no answer.”
During the funeral Mass a pair of boxing gloves, a framed photo of Darren, his Olympic tracksuit and his bronze medal were placed by his coffin, draped in a white sheet.
A bouquet of flowers in the shape of boxing gloves sat near the altar, before being placed in the waiting hearse.
The song 'My Son' by Brendan Shine was performed during the communion by family friend Nikki Kavanagh, as a special request from Darren’s grieving mum Linda.
Ms Kavanagh also sang Run by Leona Lewis as Darren’s coffin was brought from the chapel.
As his hearse left the grounds of St Mary’s for his final journey, the boys of St Saviour’s formed a guard of honour, escorting the cortege with their club banner and Olympic flag.
At the back of the hearse was a framed photo of Darren posing with his bronze medal.
Arts minister Martin Cullen was also among the mourners, while Taoiseach Brian Cowen and president Mary McAleese were represented by their aides-de-camps.
Darren was buried in nearby St Finian’s cemetery.
He had turned pro and joined the Maloney camp after his bronze medal success.
He was one of the leading lights on the Irish boxing scene in the four years before the games and regarded as one of the best talents coached under the Irish Sports Council’s high performance unit.