The priest who celebrated the funeral Mass of a teenage victim of a potent designer drug has urged young people to reflect on his death and say no to drugs.
Fr John Fitzgerald, the parish priest of Millstreet, Co Cork, said 18-year-old Alex Ryan was too young to die, and that his mother, Irena, and sister, Nicole, have been “robbed of their tomorrows”.
He made his comments in his homily yesterday as hundreds of people gathered in the town’s St Patrick’s Church to say goodbye to Alex, who died in Cork University Hospital (CUH) on Saturday after taking the psychoactive stimulant N-Bomb at a house party in the Greenmount area of Cork City last week. He is believed to be the first Irish victim of the drug.
“As you came face-to-face with his remains last night in the funeral home, beautifully dressed, looking lovely, as he is in all those photographs, we have to be challenged by the fact that Alex was too young to die,” said Fr Fitzgerald.
“We all know the reasons why, because they’ve been well recorded in media in the last few days. And this should cause us all to reflect on the reasons for his death, because we’ve all been warned for many years about the dangers of drugs, and I would encourage you to reflect.”
Fr Fitzgerald reminded the many young people in the congregation of the two-fold pledge they took at their Confirmation — to abstain from drink until a certain age and to abstain from drugs for life.
“I put that before you again this morning — that you have the strength of character to say no so that you yourselves can reach your full potential, achieve your own targets, and find a niche in life where you’ll be happy and content,” he said.
His drugs warning was driven home by Nicole, who paid a moving tribute from the altar to her younger brother.
Flanked by her mother, she remembered Alex as a “fighter with a lion’s heart”, as “a brother, a son, a boyfriend, a friend” who always looked up to her.
“He was the joker, the giver, the happy one, he was creative, and he had compassion for everyone and anyone he met. He hated seeing people suffer,” said Nicole.
“Alex hated to conform. He did not see the point of spending your life working nine to five.
“He wanted to be free to live life on his terms and his rules. I often thought this was unrealistic but the more I think about it, the more I see his point of view.
“The thing that breaks my heart the most is that he will never know my children, he will never be at my wedding, we will never have a night out together — all these little things that people may take for granted, I will never get to share with him and that’s tragic,” said Nicole.
She said she will be forever grateful that he got to see her graduate. “He was so happy that day. I used always joke with him that I would put mum in a home and he would always say he would come save her.
“We had a great time together. We were very different but the same in many ways.”
Nicole paid tribute to the two men who came to party-goers’ aid last Tuesday. She thanked the staff at CUH, and the team in its intensive care unit; Alex’s girlfriend Triona for giving him the love they could not; Kanturk rugby club and the people of Millstreet for their generosity, support, and sympathy.
She said that her little brother had done more in his 18 years than she imagines she will ever do in a lifetime. “But I will try to keep making him proud. I will do you and mum proud, I promise,” said Nicole.
“I will take care of her, I promise. I won’t put her in a home, I promise. We’ll stay strong for you, we promise. We will love you forever, we promise.
Fr Fitzgerald said Alex’s death should remind people of how fragile life really is. He paid tribute to Alex’s many friends who journeyed with him, even to the point of being with him in CUH as he drew his final breaths.
He recalled his love of playing guitar and ukulele, and also remembered how he played the ukulele at Millstreet Community School’s Leaving Certificate Mass last May.
“Many of you can recall the 6ft 7in Alex, with his little ukulele, playing the communion reflection,” said Fr Fitzgerald.
“That was probably the last time I spoke to him, and I thanked him for that. I think he was proud that he was able to play it for his classmates.
“As we look at the lovely photos of him, Alex will never grow old.
“When you come for your class reunions in 10 years’ time, or in 20 or 25 years, this is how you will remember Alex, as he is in those photographs there.
“He won’t age, get the grey hairs, or lose hair like the rest of us. He will remain, in one sense, forever young.”
The funeral was also told that Alex was remembered at an Orthodox service in Irena’s sister’s home town in the Ukraine.
Fourth, fifth, and sixth year students of Millstreet Community School provided a guard of honour as the coffin was carried from the church.
Alex’s remains were cremated in a private ceremony in Ringaskiddy afterwards.
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