Clarecastle parish priest Fr Pat Malone was addressing mourners at the requiem mass for the rugby legend who died unexpectedly last Sunday in Paris where he was with the Munster team for their game against Racing 92. Anthony Foley’s remains were buried at Relig Lua Cemetery, Killaloe, County Clare.
Anthony Foley’s widow, Olive, their children Tony, aged 11 and Dan, aged eight, along with Anthony’s parents Brendan and Sheila and sisters Rosie and Orla were joined in St Flannan’s church by former greats of Irish rugby as well as current players Anthony managed.
Fr Malone began by expressing the sympathy of so many for the people who knew and loved Anthony Foley personally.
“I am sorry for your trouble —these words say it all today. Sorry to see you in such shock and pain. Sorry to hear, as you expressed it yourselves in your very moving family statement earlier in the week, that ‘we have been plunged deep into an incomprehensible darkness and sense of loss’. Sorry to hear that Anthony has died.”
In his homily Fr Malone said: “How can one be so bold as to speak of the life of another on a day like this? I believe it is only words spoken from the well of experience that allows one to engage in such a task, and so I share a few reflections of the man I know myself.”
He noted that his longest and lasting memory of Anthony was that of a family man.
“His family meant all to him. Olive, you were his true love, and how good ye were together. One could sense the strength of your relationship, the warmth of your love for each other, and the ways you supported each other through the easy as well as the difficult moments of life.
“You complemented each other so well — yin and yang in perfect balance with each other. As parents together, ye were second to none.
“My memories of Anthony as a loving, caring and interested dad, revolved around the magical family moments in the garden. Anthony pucking the sliotar with the lads, kicking a football, swinging a golf club, and erecting a trampoline. I could see he enjoyed the different temperament of his two boys and with the wonderful sports brain he had, he was silently assessing their temperament for future sporting engagement.
“I remember him when the excitement of the hen’s arrival was the flavour in family life, him searching with the boys for the eggs that were laid. The excitement when they were found was shared and young Tony would look over the fence and invite all to the breakfast.
“These happy, cherished moments will hopefully in time offer many moments of pleasure to Tony and Dan.”
The parable of the pencil — the pencil is urged by its maker to make its mark — was mentioned by Fr Malone.
“There is a lovely story, the Parable of the Pencil. I love it and often use it to encourage young people as they set out on their journey in life. The message to the pencil is to ‘make your mark’.
“Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley made many a mark in his 42 short years of life. Just look around and see; the indelible, warm, affirming marks he left on family, friends, colleagues, sports fans, this local community, rugby wherever it is spoken of — to name but a few.”
Addressing Olive Foley directly, Fr Malone said: “Olive, may the benchmark of his love be the ray of light that dispels the incomprehensible darkness you speak of in the family statement, a darkness that we must work our way through over the coming, days, weeks and years.”
He concluded by saying: “Today, as we commend Anthony to the care of God, we ask that he may sleep that sleep of peace in God’s presence. I am fairly certain God could do with a top-class number 8.”
'Killaloe is a small place and now we have lost a large part of it because Anthony was larger than life'
The void left in Killaloe by the death of Anthony Foley will be hard to fill.
This was the overriding sentiment yesterday as the thousands of visiting mourners departed and the town was left to cope with its own grief and sorrow.
One man on Main St summed up the mood: “We have been in a state of shock all week, the whole town. Crowds of people have been here going to the church to sympathise. There were media, cameras all over the place. Now we will be by ourselves. This will allow our own personal grieving as a town and community to really start and take in the reality of Anthony’s death and rally around the family.”
Down in the family resource centre on the Main St, Kerry Blake said Anthony Foley was a big man in every sense.
“If Anthony was walking down the street he had a big presence, a fine, tall man. But he also had a great presence in the community given the amount of activities he was involved in and the amount of people and organisations he helped and got involved in. Now he’s gone from us and his family.”
Mr Blake, 53, who teaches computer skills locally, said the grief throughout the whole community was palpable all week.
“It’s hard to believe he’s gone. You expect to see him walking down the street any minute. He was so full of life and good humour. Then to see him in the casket up in the church — that really hit me. It is going to be a very difficult time in the days and weeks ahead. But the community will now have its own time to reflect on the man and the huge role he played in the community and what he stood for. There is no doubt there will be a big void.
“The Foleys are a fine family. Killaloe is a small place and now we have lost a large part of it because Anthony was larger than life. The community will always be there for the family.”
One local woman said every part of the community feels the pain.
“The Foley family are so involved in so many aspects of life in Killaloe, whether its education, sport, recreation events, or fundraising. This family embraces Killaloe. The media coverage shows how much the wider sporting world is mourning Anthony. We are mourning and grieving for a local family, a family we see and meet every day. We are all just devastated.”
Len Dinneen, (ok) former captain of Cork Con and who played with the Cork side when they won the All-Ireland League in 1991 said: “I knew Anthony so well having played with him for Munster and against him when Con met Shannon.”
Mr Dinneen, a 49-year-old Limerick businessman, said Anthony Foley was a great rugby man and typified and personified all that is best in rugby people.
“He was a great Shannon man. A Shannon man to the core. Those values he learned at Shannon were brought by him to Munster and to Ireland sides. Anthony was great company and I was fortunate to accompany him on two Golden Oldies Lions trips to Bermuda. Anthony had a very dry and great wit and it was great to be with him.”
Finance Minister Michael Noonan said his death was felt among rugby people around the world.“This is a tragic occasion and my sympathy goes out to the Foley family who I have known for many years. Anthony, Olive, Brendan Sheila, Rosie and Orla. I was at home on Sunday when my son rang me with the news.
“Anthony Foley’s contribution to rugby was immense. He was an extraordinary man who captained his club, Shannon, his province, Munster and his country. He was a leader and he had that quality right through his life from boyhood. This quality transcended into the wider world.
“ The whole of the city [Limerick] is still in shock, mourning his sudden death. The ripples of his death have spread right throughout the country, to around the world, where ever rugby is played. It is a very sad time for all who knew Anthony and marvelled at his great abilities.”