Tipperary hurling star Dillon Quirke died last Friday “doing what he loved”, in the Premier County’s home of hurling, his funeral mass heard on Tuesday.
Mr Quirke, 24, who catapulted through the hurling ranks from underage to the Tipperary senior hurling team, died after he collapsed while captaining Clonoulty Rossmore against Kilruane MacDonaghs, during a county senior hurling championship match at Semple Stadium, Thurles, last Friday.
The idyllic rural village of Clonoulty came to a standstill as the local hurling legend’s remains were first driven by hearse from his home to his local GAA pitch, before his coffin was shouldered almost 2kms to St. John the Baptist Church, as it passed hundreds of silent standing mourners on the way.
Members of the Tipperary County Board, along with President of the GAA Larry McCarthy, led the cortège to the church where local hurling and camogie players as well as Mr Quirke’s Tipperary teammates, performed guards of honour.
In a loving tribute to his only son, Mr Quirke’s heartbroken father Dan Quirke said: “Dillon was a beautiful son, my best friend, our hero. He came into this world a fighter, born premature following a road accident, and he left it a champion and a true legend.”
Mr Quirke’s sister Shannon read a poem which championed her brother’s hurling skills and remembered him as a “fighter in the skies” defender, who was also “deadly in attack”.
In a tribute to his nephew, Clonoulty Rossmore chairman Andrew Fryday, told mourners: “Dillon was going so well in that match last Friday night, he was a leading player, a leading player, leading from the front, showing his ability and his skills”.
Becoming emotional, Mr Fryday added: “Then a nightmare struck and we all know what happened.
Mr Fryday thanked the wider “GAA family”, their neighbours and friends, and their hurling rivals Kilruane MacDonaghs, for their “dignity and support” since last Friday night.
“It hasn’t been easy since then, and I suppose if the truth be known, we are all one big happy family in the GAA, yes we go out (on the pitch) on days and cut each other asunder, but when it comes to it all and the chips are down, we are all behind each other and we stand up together and we have seen that here massively, so thank you.”
Mr Fryday also paid special thanks to last Friday’s match referee Michael Kennedy; the “magnificent staff at Semple stadium”; their club’s team physio Ciara Gleeson, HSE paramedics, the Order of Malta, Gardaí, and staff at Clonmel Hospital, who all tried valiantly to save Mr Quirke.
Mr Fryday said Dillon was destined for hurling greatness, and noted a long list of his nephew’s hurling achievements.
“Last Friday evening, Dillon made a triumphant exit from his life, doing what he loved, with his teammates, and the great friends he loved so much, and in front of the people he cherished most - his family.
“He was such a lovely, lovely fella, a perfect gentleman, I suppose he was what any mother or father would like to have had as a son, and if you go through his hurling career, he is probably what any manager or any trainer of a team would like to have as a leader and as an inspiration to others around him.
“What an inspiring hero he was to us, both on and off the field. Dillon, until we meet again, go gently into the good night and shine brightly.”
Fr Tom Hearne, PP, Clonoulty Rossmore, said the parish had been “stunned” by Mr Quirke’s death, who he said had achieved “perfection in so short a time”.
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, was represented at the funeral by Commandant Deirdre Newell, and the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, was represented by Commandant Claire Mortimer.
After the mass, Dillon Quirke, who is survived by his parents Dan and Hazel, sisters Shannon and Kellie, was laid to rest under a blanket of warm sunshine, in the adjoining Clonoulty cemetery.