A FLAT cap and a bingo book — the most fitting symbols for a quiet, country man who loved the outdoors and a game of bingo in the parish hall.
Mourners who packed the small country church at yesterday’s funeral mass for Hughie Friel, 66, who died in Sunday’s horror crash in Inishowen, were told that the pensioner farmer was a “lovely, quiet, pleasant gentleman” and a great neighbour who would do anything for his friends.
Clonmany parish priest, Fr Fintan Diggin said Hughie would be “sorely missed” by his own community and generally in the local parish.
“His life revolved around working the land and helping his neighbours. He was a great friend to so many and his only distraction was he loved the bingo.”
St Michael’s Church, Urris, was packed to overflowing as friends, neighbours and relatives of some of the other seven victims of the accident, joined chief mourners, siblings, Eddie, Paddy, Denis, Sally, Bridget and nieces and nephews, to bid farewell to the kindly pensioner.
Clonmany parish priest Fr Fintan Diggin said Hughie would not have wanted hurt and bitterness to come from his death.
“I know that Hughie would not have wanted the circumstances surrounding his death to heap any more pain or suffering or grief on anybody,” said Fr Diggin.
He said if Hughie were alive, he would have hoped everybody could forgive and understand.
“I am sure he would have used the phrase that has been used so much these days ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.”
The priest added: “This is an area of traditional good neighbourliness and people spontaneously helping each other, coming to someone’s assistance... always being there for one another.”
He continued: “That is the personality and character and nature of the man.
“Hughie Friel was a lovely, quiet, pleasant gentleman, a great neighbour who will be sorely missed by this community.”
Low-maintenance, easily pleased, working on his land gave him immense satisfaction, he said.
Prayers were also said for the families of the other victims and for the sole survivor of the accident, who, Fr Diggin said, was “fighting for his life in Letterkenny Hospital”.
Mass was concelebrated by Clonmany-born priest, Fr Paul Farren and Urris-born priest, Fr Michael Canny, who is also spokesman for the Bishop of Derry, Seamus Hegarty.
A letter was also read out to the congregation from the bishop who offered his prayers and support to the bereaved.
Offertory gifts included the dark-coloured flat cap Hughie used for farming, a bingo book and his bingo pen. The congregation heard he had won €65 that ill-fated night, a sum that “would have been a fortune” to him.
Fr Diggin said the mark of the man was that he had a “great generosity and a forgiving nature”. He also praised the loving spirit of the Friel family who had attended the wakes of the other victims in recent days.
“Members of Hughie’s family found it in their hearts to go to the families to sympathise with them, to offer the hand of friendship and to pray for them.
“The family have in their own heartbreak and suffering, been looking out for the other families affected.”
The parish priest said fishing communities in Inishowen had, over the decades, suffered many “lost at sea” tragedies but that profile had now changed to “lost on land”, namely the catalogue of multiple car fatalities to hit the peninsula in recent years.
There were poignant scenes as the pensioner’s coffin was wheeled out of the small church by his heartbroken siblings.
Mourners then followed his remains to their final resting place in the churchyard overlooking rugged Leenan Head under a squall of heavy rain.
One family member helped his distressed wife out of the church by the arm as it emptied of people. The sound of muted crying could be heard, and a little boy tearfully rested his head against his mother’s cheek.
Outside, at the burial in the churchyard, prayers were said and red roses dropped on to the coffin.
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