By David Raleigh
Two Limerick men - who drowned in two separate incidents in recent days - have been remembered at their funeral masses as unique, loving, and free-spirited.
In a touching tribute, well-known Limerick bagpiper, Christopher Leo senior, played a haunting lament on his pipes while leading his son, Christopher juniors coffin, from the church to his grave.
The 44-year old father of one, known to friends and family as "Kippy", died June 30th in a tragic accident in the River Shannon, having gone for a swim with pals, near his home in St Mary’s Park, known locally as The Island.
Family friend, Very Rev Noel Kirwan, told mourners at St John’s Cathedral the “summer had turned sour” for the entire community.
“Those of us who grew up on The Island, grew up with a love of the bank around the river, and a love of the river itself, swimming in the river and (going) out on the boats and all the rest of that,” Fr Kirwan said.
“But, I can remember so many years that the summer would turn sour because someone we knew and cared about from our community was taken by the river.”
“It shook us every time.”
Mr Leo was remembered by his family for his caring nature and his love of dancing and music.
Fr Kirwan raised laughter from those gathered and joked: “St Joseph is putting back the chairs tonight because he is going to be dancing with the best break-dancer in Limerick.”
“Remember him as he was, that freedom to dance, to dance like no one is watching.”
There were also poignant scenes as Niall Gibbons - whose body was located June 27th, two days after he went missing while swimming with friends, off Long Beach, New York - was remembered at a special funeral mass prior to being cremated at a private family gathering.
Mr Gibbon’s only sibling, Sharon Gibbons, told the hundreds packed into Our Lady Help of Christians her brother was “the most amazing human I have ever known”
Mr Gibbons, from Castletroy, and known affectionately as “Gibbs”, was taken by the thing which he loved best, his sister said.
“He loved the beach - Long Beach in particular - but more than anything Niall loved people.”
Ms Gibbons thanked her brother’s friends “for raising the alarm” on the night he went missing in the awater.
She also thanked, on behalf of her parents Ray and Maria, US emergency services for their “professionalism, efficiency, communication, compassion and warmth”.
She also praised members of the Long Beach Police Department “who were in the water within minutes” searching for Mr Gibbons, as well as members of the US Coast Guard for their “extensive land air and sea search” for her brother.
“They literally moved heaven and earth to find Niall, and for that we are eternally grateful.”
Niall Gibbon’s mother, Maria, left mourners in tears as she sang a tribute to her son entitled “Niall’s Way”.
Mr Gibbons’ family requested family flowers only and, if desired, donations to be made to the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust, which Ms Gibbons said had been “instrumental in bringing our boy home”.