Up to 500 people who came to say their final farewells to Jonathan ‘Jonny’ Byrne in his home village of Leighlinbridge in Co Carlow listened in silence yesterday as parish priest Fr Thomas Lalor spoke of the peer pressure that leads to many risks and challenges which can have “disastrous consequences”.
The 19-year-old’s body was found on Sunday morning, hours after he drank a pint and entered the River Barrow at Milford Bridge. He was laid to rest yesterday.
The mourners — gathered to support Jonathan’s parents Kathleen and Joe, brother Patrick and other relatives and friends — clapped and wept as they heard Jonathan’s father, Joe Byrne, speak about the talented young hurler, “a marvellous chap” who was loved by everybody and whose life was cut short at such a young age last Saturday.
Joe remembered the day as “an ordinary day, like every other Saturday”, until, after dinner, Jonathan, Patrick and Patrick’s girlfriend Emma left the house.
“Twenty minutes later the phone call came in, that would change our lives forever,” he said.
Joe remembered Jonny as a young child who wanted to have a walking stick like his grandfather, who later learned to play cards with his grandmother, and went everywhere with a hurley and sliotar in his hand.
Many local people have called to the family home since Saturday night, he said, both to help during the search for Jonathan’s body and in the intervening days, to offer any support they could, and he thanked all who helped in any way.
“We were sitting in the kitchen the other night, when everybody was gone, and the only thing breaking the silence was the washing machine,” said Joe. “Kathleen said to me: ‘He never treated anyone badly.’ That’s the truth.”
Mementos including a hurley, football, Liverpool jersey, and a photograph were brought to the altar by Jonathan’s brother Patrick, while Petey Shaw wrote a poem in memory of his friend.
Voice cracking, he read the lines which included: “We’re hurting now, dear Jonny, we’re hurting to the bone, but let us make this one thing clear, you’ll never walk alone.”
In his homily, Fr Lalor said life is full of risks, sometimes harmless, sometimes with disastrous consequences: “And then add alcohol to the situation, as seems to be the case in so many of these neknominations.”
He said: “People need to be brave. People need to say no. Find there is a greatness in this. You have heard of ‘the power of one’. Just as this craze is supposed to have been started by one person, it can be stopped by one person. Let you be that person. If you are faced with this challenge, be strong, be great, and make a worthwhile contribution. You owe it to Jonathan Byrne.”
Members of local sporting clubs and Knockbeg College formed a guard of honour before and after the funeral Mass.
You’ll Never Walk Alone, the song adopted by his beloved Liverpool FC, played as he was carried on his last journey to the nearby cemetery.
A judge in the North has apologised after being filmed saying “neck and nominate” and drinking a shot in an apparent reference to neknomination.
Judge Rosemary Watters was at a family event when the footage was recorded.