Irish give Foley full-blooded farewell

Fri, 21 Oct 2016 12:28

REACTION: In many ways it could have been a matchday as thousands of Munster rugby supporters wound their way past a sea of red on the way to the venue.

But this was a Friday lunchtime and the Munster tribe were travelling instead to the little town of Killaloe, some 25 kilometres from Limerick, to bury their fallen Irish rugby chieftain Anthony Foley.

The Munster head coach and former No.8 - who captained the province to their first European Cup title in 2006 -- was found dead aged just 42 in his Paris hotel room last Sunday hours ahead of a European match against Racing 92.

The man who had struck terror into many an opponent and never let up on the pitch had succumbed to an "acute pulmonary edema".

Hedgerows, shops, schools, trees and houses in this picturesque spot on the banks of the River Shannon on the way to St Flannan's church were bedecked with Munster flags and Irish tricolours.

On a bright autumn day huge, sober-suited men mingled with women and children of all ages and from every walk of life to pay their respects.

Ireland does many things well and funerals are one of them.

It would not be unusual for people to travel thousands of miles to attend a burial but this one was special, both in its size and its poignancy.

In his homily, Father Pat Malone, the local parish priest who was a friend of the Foley family, described him as "one of nature's gentlemen".

"It is fitting we celebrate with dignity the life and achievements of a man who lived life with great dignity and personal and professional integrity," he said.

"What touched me most in all the statements I heard or read about Anthony in the past week is the amount of care he offered to so, so many different people.

"He had that great human capacity to sense or notice those who were struggling in one way or another and the ability to reach out to them and include them in a sensitive and caring way.

"His presence was reassuring, his ability to care, his sheer support, his sense of camaraderie, made all the difference and, to borrow from another famous football anthem: knowing Anthony’s presence, you knew 'You'll never walk alone'."

For all the heroics on the field that won him so much adulation in life and in death, this was very much a family occasion.

Shortly after noon, the funeral cortege arrived at the church to the strains of the Munster rugby anthem Stand Up and Fight.

Elsewhere across the province local radio stations were marking the beginning of the service with the unofficial anthem The Fields of Athenry.

Former Munster star lock Donncha O'Callaghan pulled the coffin of his former friend from the hearse and helped to hoist it high for the eight pall-bearers.

These included Foley's father Brendan - a Ireland and Munster star himself - his wife Olive and his two sisters, Orla and Rosie, the latter a former Irish international and the only person Anthony professed to be scared of.

Foley's two young sons, Tony and Dan were also present.

One mourner remarked: "When it all boils down to it, two little boys are waking up without their father; that's the reality and it's heartbreaking - rugby is only a game."

Current and former members of the Munster team led by former Ireland and Munster captain Paul O'Connell are expected to help carry his coffin to the nearby graveyard. 

Finance Minister Michael Noonan was among the several high profile politicians to attend.

Such was the respect Foley was held in that it took more than eight hours for tens of thousands of mourners to file past his coffin in St Flannan's church on Thursday.

Many of them had lined the route from the family home nearby known locally as Foley's Hill. 

The Prime Minister Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins sent representatives. 

The Mayor of Limerick Kieran O'Hanlon also attended. 

A banner outside the local police station reads: "Thanks Anthony, you were mighty". 

Agence France-Presse