There were heartbreaking scenes as the young son of champion jockey John Thomas McNamara asked angels to look after his dad, who passed away last Tuesday from injuries sustained three years ago, in a horror fall at Cheltenham.
“Thank you, God, for my dad. We ask the angels to take good care of you. We love you dad,” JT’s youngest son Harry said, as he bravely delivered a prayer of the faithful at his father’s funeral in St Michael’s Church, Manister, Co Limerick.
Hundreds of mourners, including fellow champion jockeys Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, and Tony McCoy, formed a guard of honour, as Mr McNamara’s oak coffin was shouldered from the church to the adjoining cemetery.
Other well-known faces from the racing world travelled from their bases at the Galway Racing Festival to pay their respects, including Mr McNamara’s former boss, JP McManus; Christopher ‘Mouse’ Morris, and a host of elite trainers and breeders.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was represented at JT McNamara’s funeral by his aide de camp, Commandant Kieran Carey, Irish Defence Forces. The President, Michael D Higgins, was represented by his aide de camp, Lt Col Michael Kiernan, Irish Defence Forces.
JT’s first cousin, jockey Robert McNamara — who was also paralysed from the waist down in a fall in 2015, but who has managed to get back up on the saddle following surgery and gruelling sessions of physiotherapy — attended the mass and graveside in a wheelchair.
Chief celebrant Canon Garry Bluett, retired PP Manister, described his late friend JT, as a “prince” with “a kind and generous soul”.
McNamara had won 600 times in the McManus silks, riding all the way to the top of his sport.
Tears flowed as the 41-year old’s three young children, Dylan, Harry, and Olivia, held on to their mother, as each dropped a single white rose onto their father’s coffin.
In a loving tribute, his widow, Caroline, said he “was an amazing sports man, great husband, and father.”
The congregation laughed as she recalled the birth of the couple’s second child Harry: “(John) was more concerned with how long the labour would be, as he needed to be in Punchestown that afternoon to ride L’Ami. I’m still wondering which one he was more delighted with, the win, or Harry.”
She described how “nearing the end” of her husband’s riding career, JT’s life “took a horrendous turn, and one we will never forget.”
“He handled it with strength and courage,” she added.
In an ironic twist, JT’s life-changing injury had brought him and his three little children closer in his last few years. “There were many, many difficult days but his sheer determination and strength of character gave him three years and four months to spend with us, and allowed Dylan, Harry, and Olivia, precious time to form fond memories of their dad.”
Thanking people for their “outpouring of support”, Caroline McNamara praised the Irish Injured Jockeys Club, Irish Turf Club, and the Injured Jockeys Fund UK, who, “without their support, John’s return home would not have been possible”.
Her little girl Olivia sat close beside her, as eldest brother Dylan did a reading.
The family brought along gifts synonymous with John Thomas’ racing career, including his riding helmet, colours, and a photograph of him with one of his beloved horses. And in a personal tribute,
Fr Bluett thanked his friend and parishioner for the many “beautiful memories” he had given everyone who loved him and his sport.
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