Hundreds of people braved strong winds and rain to pay their respects to the Galway hurler Niall Donohue, who died on Wednesday evening, just two days before his 23rd birthday.
A cousin of the star hurler urged people to share their problems with others and told the packed congregation at St Columba’s Church in Kilbeacanty in south Co Galway, that Niall himself would be the first to urge others to talk to people.
Neil McDonagh said that one of his cousin’s greatest attributes was his honesty, and that the manner of his death was at odds with his life.
“Niall’s death was not a decision, it was a struggle. The truth is that Niall’s life ended in a way that leaves us confused and hurt,” he said.
“Today as you stand next to the people you love, remember Niall and be brave enough to talk.”
Kilbeacanty parish priest Fr Pat Callinan echoed his words as he described the difficulties the community had in trying to come to terms with the death of a local hero.
“We must as a community look out for each other and look out for the signs of difficulty in a person’s life.”
He said messages of sympathy had poured in from all over the world and the mourners heard that Niall’s faith was epitomised by the fact that he played with a miraculous medal sewn into his shorts.
Among the items placed on his coffin were a hurley and helmet and a Galway jersey with his No 5 on it, along with a Kilbeacanty No 6 jersey, and a Bible.
Fr Callinan praised thecommunity for the way they had rallied to support the Donohue family and he said he knew they would continue to do that for his father Francie, his brother Shane, sister Orla and girlfriend Ciara Reilly.
Another cousin of the hurler, Ciaran Donohue, said the GAA and the local community had been there for the family when it was most needed.
“At times like this you really get to see what community spirit and above all what the GAA means.
“To the Kilbeacanty people and in particular the Kilbeacanty hurling club the work has been 24-7 since last Wednesday night. They really have shown what Nially meant to them 100 times over.
“Words cannot begin to describe how humbled we are by the support that they and all the rest of the hurling clubs not alone in Co Galway but all over Ireland have given us.”
Another cousin among the mourners was Clare All-Ireland final hero Shane O’Donnell, along with GAA players from all over the country who had called to the Donohue house or attended the funeral Mass yesterday.
GAA president Liam O’Neill visited the Donohue family on Friday and among the mourners yesterday was former president Joe McDonagh, former Galway All-Ireland winning captain Joe Connolly, Ulster council president Aodhán O Fearghail, and Connacht council president Frank Burke.
Others in attendance included the mayor of Galway, Cllr Liam Carroll, the mayor of Galway City, Cllr Padraig Conneely, Minister of State for training and skills Ciaran Cannon, and former Fianna Fáil minister Frank Fahey, who is from Kilbeacanty.
Members of the Galway senior hurling squad carried Niall’s coffin from the house through Kilbeacanty village to the church, and then his Kilbeacanty teammates carried it after the funeral Mass from the church to Rakerin cemetery where he was laid to rest beside his mother Mary, who died in 1996.
Chairman of Kilbeacanty GAA club, Justin Fahy, spoke at the graveside of Niall’s many achievements and recalled the glorious day last year when he had taken the Bob O’Keeffe Cup to the two schools in the parish after Galway had won the Leinster senior hurling championship for the first time.
“The children idolised him,” he said.