Two weeks ago, Michael ‘Ducksie’ Walsh was winning yet another All-Ireland competition in one of the many handball alleys he graced for most of his life.
On Saturday, he was laid to rest in his beloved Bennettsbridge, family and friends shocked at the speed of his passing following a sudden illness.
One of Ireland’s most successful sportspeople of all time, the 50-year-old was revered throughout the country and beyond for the talent and commitment he had for handball, a passion that yielded 38 All-Ireland senior singles titles throughout his career, as well as world championships and many other honours.
As his long-time friend and former hurler of the year DJ Carey put it at Saturday’s funeral Mass: “He was the best at everything and, as a person, he was fantastic.”
Hundreds packed into the Church of St Bennett in the Co Kilkenny village for the Mass, with hundreds more standing outside, including people from handball and other GAA clubs from all over Ireland.
The attendance included handball association president Joe Masters, as well as officials from many clubs and counties, along with rivals and friends such as Walter O’Connor, Eoin Kennedy, and Niall Breen.
Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody and former hurlers Eddie Keher and Christy Heffernan were also in the attendance, as well as Kilkenny GAA chairman Ned Quinn and RTÉ newscaster Eileen Dunne, whose late father, the broadcaster and journalist Mick Dunne, was a great admirer of the handball champion.
President Michael D Higgins was represented at the funeral by his aide de camp, Lt Commander Patricia Butler, while the Taoiseach was represented by his aide de camp, Cmdt Kieran Carey.
DJ Carey drew many laughs during his address with stories about Ducksie from his school days, when he could be found playing handball at Butts Alley in Kilkenny, or at Talbots Inch instead of being at school; or, later on, when rivalries were keen and one contentious final venue was decided by a coin-toss “over the phone”; or of phone calls looking for All-Ireland tickets or concert tickets; or kitchens half- finished with promises to return the following week.
But he reminded the mourners to support Ducksie’s wife Sheena, children Dylan, Megan, and Niamh, as well as his brother, sisters and other family members.
Of the popular star’s many achievements, his love for his family was renowned.
“Every corner of the country is touched,” Carey said.
Chief celebrant was parish priest of Gowran, Fr Pat Dalton, who said Ducksie’s passing on Thursday last had been “a devastating shock” to the Walsh family and their friends.
Guards of honour were provided by handball and hurling clubs before and after the Mass and, as Saturday afternoon wound on, the coffin draped in the colours of Talbots Inch and Bennettsbridge was brought to its final resting place in Foulkstown Cemetery.
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