The funeral mass of the great Éamonn Ryan took place this afternoon in the church of Naoimh Fionnbarra agus Rónán in his adopted home of Béal Átha’n Ghaorthaidh. The mass was presided over by his brother-in-law, Fr Aidan Vaughan, who was always struck by the “extraordinary respect Eamonn Ryan had for every human being.”
The words of ‘You Raise Me Up’ echoed through the church at the beginning of the intimate service and there could not be a more fitting song for such a remarkable man who had such a positive influence on so many people throughout his wonderful life.
A book, the jerseys of UCC, Cork and his beloved Watergrasshill, a football, hurley and sliotar were all presented by his wife, Pat, and three daughters, Michelle, Deirdre and Jackie, as symbols of his life. Éamonn's son, Jim Ryan, emphasised that while these were mementoes of his life, they by no means summed it up.
And how do you sum up such an extraordinary life that has provoked such an extraordinary outpouring of genuine affection?
Well in his eulogy, Jim managed to do so, speaking eloquently and powerfully while painting a picture of a life lived less ordinary from the main street and Geary’s field in Watergrasshill, through the North Monastery and Coláiste Íosagáin, to his days as ‘Rocky’ Ryan while learning his trade in St Pat’s while togging out with Erin’s Hope.
It brought him home again as the máistir scoile in the ‘Hill and ushered him into the public consciousness through his exploits with Na Piarsaigh, Béal Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh, the Cork minors, the Cork footballers and, of course, the Cork ladies footballers.
While it is a sad day, Jim insisted that it was also a day to focus on his wonderful life, describing Éamonn's many roles — husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, máistir, lecturer, coach, philosopher, psychologist — while also bringing attention to one of Mr Ryan’s most admirable traits, his humility.
“Dad would recoil at someone standing here and extolling your virtues. It wasn’t what you were about, and I promise I won’t go on too long.”
Despite his 17 years in Béal Átha, Jim informed us that his Dad was “of the Hill. His parents, Jim and Mary, and the Hill community made him who he was.”
In his younger days, the Watergrasshill Junior B hurlers were his heroes, and the team were the be-all and the end-all of his sporting life. Despite his seemingly endless list of achievements at local and national level, he still held the Hill’s Junior county success in 1974 as the pinnacle of his playing career.
Jim also pointed out that his father was a “highly intelligent man” and it was his academic potential that really introduced him to the football world. He earned a scholarship to Coláiste Íosagáin in Baile Bhúirne on the back of his outstanding Inter Cert Latin results in the Mon. This gave him a pathway to St Pat’s College in Dublin where he qualified as a primary school teacher.
“When he returned home, he poured energies into teaching, playing and coaching. That only happened because he had a rock at home, Mam, who did everything for him to ensure that he was able to fulfil his wishes, dreams and ambitions.
“He was heavily involved with all teams in the ‘Hill, Glenville and the local school. It’s fair to say that that relationship was of mutual benefit. The young people of the parish developed as people and players, and the master developed as a coach. And I think that was his secret. He firmly believed that he got as much if not more from that arrangement.”
Éamonn Ryan was ahead of his time in that “for him, the process was key and sometimes, if you were lucky, success emerged from that process. He always said that it was some sort of addiction that he had.
“He was happiest in a field, helping and guiding others. I suppose this addiction needs to be fuelled by athletes who suffer from a similar malaise. Dad was lucky to encounter many of those over the years involved in sport.
“But it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the good fortune that he had to happen upon a group of outstanding ladies in 2004 who also craved a similar fix. Again, Dad got as much out of those years as the players did.
“It was a process of life-time learning. Many people over the past few days have commented on how Dad helped them out. How he listened, he advised, he empathised and generally showed care towards them. This is a reflection of those values in action and I believe that this will be his lasting legacy.
“Ní bheidh do leithéid arís Dad. You did your best, and you had a great time.”
And so, a gentleman passes to his eternal reward, leaving his legacy of perpetual light shining upon us all.