Limerick Priest who opened door to Pope John Paul II audience for Irish soccer stars passes away

Limerick man travelled as a chaplain with the Irish team to Rome in 1990 and became a 'clerical celebrity'
Limerick Priest who opened door to Pope John Paul II audience for Irish soccer stars passes away

Monsignore Boyle: Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy, said the late Vicar General of the Limerick Diocese had been an “exemplary priest”. Picture: Patrick Bolger, Inpho

Tributes have been paid to a former 'celebrity' chaplain to the Republic of Ireland football team, who famously secured a private audience for the squad with Pope John Paul II during Italia 1990.

Retired Rev Monsignor Liam Boyle, a native of Rathkeale, and later Knockaderry, Co Limerick, passed away at Milford Hospice, following a long illness, on December 2. He was 91.

He had formed a close friendship with the late Irish manager Jack Charlton, before the 1966 World Cup winner steered the team to its first-ever World Cup quarter-final.

Then, on the back of Ireland’s dramatic penalty-kick group stage victory over Romania, which put them in the last eight against the tournament’s hosts, Msgr Boyle pulled strings in the Vatican City to set up the special meeting with his holiness.

For most of the Irish players it turned out to be the pinnacle of their Italian odyssey, as they were honoured at the front of a 8,000 strong audience with the pontiff, in the great Hall of Paul VI in Vatican City.

Afterwards, a visibly shell-shocked Packie Bonner said: “There have been a few special moments in my life, but that was probably the best”, while defender David O’Leary, who had shot the team through to the quarter-finals, described the meeting as a dream come true.

Monsignor Boyle was laid to rest in Newcastle West following funeral mass in the local Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Speaking at the funeral mass, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy, said the late Vicar General of the Limerick Diocese had been an “exemplary priest”.

The Irish squad with Pope John Paul II during a special Vatican audience in 1990. Team kit man Charlie O'Leary and the FAI's Fran Fields flank the Pontiff.
The Irish squad with Pope John Paul II during a special Vatican audience in 1990. Team kit man Charlie O'Leary and the FAI's Fran Fields flank the Pontiff.

A green Republic of Ireland soccer jersey was laid at the later beside Msgr Boyle’s coffin “representing his life-long interest in all sport, but in particular his long involvement with the national soccer team during the Jack Charlton era,” explained his grandniece Emer Curtin.

Monsignor Boyle’s nephew, Larry Curtin thanked all those who had nursed his uncle throughout his long illness. He drew laughter from the congregation when recalling Liam’s involvement with the Irish soccer team during the glory years, adding “he was always a great source of tickets”.

“I often wondered when Liam was less involved with the team, the results seemed to deteriorate, one wonders was there a divine influence at play,” he joked.

Chief celebrant, and life-long friend Canon Donal McNamara, told mourners: “Without doubt, Liam Boyle’s passing marks the end of an era, his talents were recognised by the Holy Father when he travelled as a chaplain with the Irish soccer team to Rome in 1990 and was welcomed warmly and Blessed by the Holy Father as was the team. 

“His witness, spiritual leadership and example had a profound impact on the team and indeed on the nation, because, like it or not, he became a clerical celebrity back in the day.” 

Predeceased by his parents William and Bridie, and sister Kitty, he is survived by sister Aine, nephew, grandnieces and grand nephews.

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