Community mourns the passing of rugby great Anthony Foley

Anthony Foley widow

Crowds of friends and fans turned out at Limerick City Hall, Merchant’s Quay on Monday, 17 October to pay their respects to the late Anthony Foley, Munster Rugby Coach, who sadly passed away in the early hours of Sunday Morning, 16 October.

Since the opening of the books of condolence, there has been a tremendous outpouring of grief and sorrow at the passing of the Munster Head Coach and this has been reflected in the more than 7,000 people who have signed the books.

You can still sign books in Merchant’s Quay, Dooradoyle, Kilmallock, Newcastle West and Rathkeale, as well as online here.

They will all remain open until 5.00pm on Friday 28 October.

The Munster and Irish Rugby legend died in Paris, where Munster Rugby was to take on Racing Metro 92 in the opening game of their European Champions Cup campaign.

In his Irish career, Foley won 62 Caps, appearing in two world cups and having the honour of leading the team as captain three times. In his club career, making his way through the ranks at Munster where he spent his playing and coaching career, Anthony Foley played an integral role as part of the Heineken Cup winning team in 2006.

Since the announcement, tributes have been pouring in, being led by Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon, Mayor of Limerick City and County:

Anthony Foley

Crowds gathered at Limerick City Hall to pay respects to the late Anthony Foley. Picture: Cian Reinhardt/ilovelimerick

“On behalf of the people of Limerick, I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to this family. All of Limerick is proud of Anthony’s achievements, whether it was lining out with St Munchin’s College, Shannon, Munster or Ireland.

“He was always a powerful but steadying influence on the pitch, whether in the red of Munster or green of Ireland, while off the pitch he was a thorough gentleman. He loved rugby and rugby loved him…May he Rest In Peace.”

Thomond Stadium, since the news, has become a shrine in the Munster coach’s honour – scarves, flags, jerseys and flowers decorate the gates of the stadium as fans from the region, devastated by the loss, pay their respects to Anthony Foley.

Similarly, in Paris, where the team were to play, Munster fans gathered placing jerseys and scarves; and singing a rendition of ‘Fields of Athenry’, showing how much the Munster Coach and previous captain meant to the team, community and rugby world.

Anthony Foley tribute

Fans laid flags, jerseys and flowers at the gates of Thomond Park as a mark of respect for the late Anthony Foley.

“It is with great sadness that I heard of the sudden death of Anthony Foley, the Munster rugby team’s head coach and one of the great figures of Irish sport in the modern era,” said President Michael D. Higgins in a tribute to the Rugby great.

He added, “While news of his death will be received with shock by all those in the rugby and sports world, it is of course first and foremost a great tragedy for his family and close friends.”

The global rugby family has been paying tribute to ‘Axel’ over the past 24 hours and the messages of support and solidarity have been a source of comfort.

The family of the Munster head coach said in a statement: “With Anthony’s passing, we have ultimately lost an amazing, adoring and loving father and husband; an equally caring, loyal and devoted son and brother; a central and go-to figure for the wider Foley and Hogan families.  Our anguish at the sudden loss of Anthony is bottomless. We have been plunged deep into an incomprehensible darkness and sense of loss that we must work our way through over the coming days, weeks, months and years.

The Limerick Leader, Monday October 17 2016, cover dedicated to legend Anthony Foley

The cover of the Limerick Leader, Monday, October 17 2016,  dedicated to legend Anthony Foley

“We know, too, that his sudden death has brought the rugby worlds of Shannon RFC, Munster, Ireland and much further afield crashing down. You have lost a former player, coach, friend and all-round inspiration – your and our hero both. We mourn his loss together.

“We again wish to thank everyone for their support; it will help carry us through these darkest days.

A book of condolence is open at Limerick City Hall, Merchant’s Quay, as well as the six other local authorities across the Munster region and online.

The funeral will take place in Killaloe the afternoon of Friday, October 21.

The remains of the 42-year-old were flown home to Shannon Airport Wednesday, Oct 19 and brought to his family home in Killaloe.

A hearse carrying the body of Anthony stopped briefly outside Thomond Park as up to 1,000 fans welcomed home the local rugby hero on his final journey.

Huge crowds turn out at Thomond to greet the Anthony Foley funeral procession on its way past Thomond Picture: Press 22

Huge crowds turn out at Thomond to greet the Anthony Foley funeral procession on its way past Thomond Picture: Press 22

Former teammates and colleagues at Shannon Rugby Club stood in a line in their official club suits to honour the 42-year old, as the hearse, chaperoned by two Garda motorcycle riders passed the stadium.

Fans stood in silence as his coffin, draped in a giant red Munster flag, paused for four minutes in front of a shrine of jerseys, scarves, and flowers.

Anthony’s family and former teammates Paul O’Connell, Mick Galwey had travelled on ‘Ryanair 8’ – a private charter provided by the airline and specially named after his position on the rugby pitch. The cortege also passed St Munchin’s College, the school he represented with such distinction.

Former Munster player, and Shannon RFC president, Noel Healy, led the large assembled crowd in an emotional rendition of the club’s anthem ‘There Is An Isle’. Fans cried, applauded and sung “And my home, my home is there.”

The remains lay in repose at Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe between 1pm and 8.30pm on Thursday evening.

Anthony’s Funeral Mass took place at 12 midday on Friday at Saint Flannan’s Church, with the church reserved for family and friends only. Burial took place at Relig Núa Cemetery, Killaloe.

Munster players past and present formed a guard of honour outside the church as the coffin was brought inside and will later help carry their former teammate to his final resting place.

Thousands of mourners lined the road outside the church for arrival of the cortège which made its way from the Foley family home in Killaloe, known locally as Foley’s Hill.

Among the mourners were former Irish rugby internationals Ronan O’Gara, Brian O’Driscoll, Peter stringer, David Wallace, Tony Ward, Marcus Horan, Peter Clohessy, Paul O’Connell and the current Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt.

The hearse carrying the remains of Anthony Foley arrive at St Flannan's Church, Killaloe - Picture: Brian Arthur

The hearse carrying the remains of Anthony Foley arrive at St Flannan’s Church, Killaloe – Picture: Brian Arthur

 

Fr. Pat Malone, PP, Clarecastle and family friend of Anthony Foley, R.I.P. and his family delivered the Homily below at the Funeral Mass at St. Flannan’s Church, Killaloe.

Fr. Pat Malone:

“My first words and thoughts today go to you Olive, to Tony, Dan, Shelia, Brendan, Rosie and Orla; and they are simple words we use at funerals when we don’t know what to say. 

“I am sorry for your trouble”.  These words say it all today.

Sorry to see you in such shock and pain.  Sorry to hear, as you expressed it yourselves in your very moving family statement earlier in the week, that “we have been plunged deep into an incomprehensible darkness and sense of loss”.

Sorry to hear that Anthony has died.

A Tribute to Anthony Foley by Limerick artist Ken Coleman.

A Tribute to Anthony Foley by Limerick artist Ken Coleman.

We gather to be with you today to share your grief and we hope that our presence today and the presence of so many people from all over Ireland and, indeed, from way further afield is a comfort and a support to you at this very difficult time.

We hope that our prayers, good wishes and genuine love for you all over the weeks and months ahead will bring you comfort and help ease your pain.

Olive, you have asked that we remember Anthony here this afternoon in prayer. We thank you for the beautiful, dignified and simple choices you and those who assisted you have made for this Mass. We know that as a woman of deep personal faith, our praying together today is very important to you and I am very pleased to give you and all of us that space where we can continue that great Christian tradition of praying for the dead in the assurance of faith and the belief that what we engage in here today is that ceremony of the handing over of our loved one in the company of the angels to the care of our God. 

It is fitting that we celebrate with dignity the life and achievements of a man who lived life with great dignity and personal and professional integrity.  There have been many beautiful and moving tributes paid to Anthony from so many people over the past week and I am certain that many more will come in the time ahead.

How can one be so bold as to speak of the life of another on a day like this?  I believe it is only words spoken from the well of experience of the person that allows one to engage in such a task, and so I will share few reflections of the man I know myself.

I have been privileged to have you as my neighbours and I have tasted the hospitality, care and concern of your neighbourliness. My first, and I believe my longest lasting, memory of Anthony is and will be as a family man. His family meant all to him. Olive, you were his true love, and how good ye were together.  One could sense the strength of your relationship, the warmth of your love for each other, and the ways you supported each other through the easy as well as the difficult moments of life. Ye complimented each other so well, Ying and Yang in perfect balance with each other.

As parents together, ye were second to none. My memories of Anthony as a loving, caring and interested Dad, revolve around the magical family moments in the garden. Anthony pucking a sliothar with his lads, kicking a football, swinging a golf club and erecting a trampoline.

I could see he enjoyed the different temperament of his two boys, and with the wonderful sports brain he had, he was silently assessing their temperament for future sporting engagement. I remember him when the excitement of the hens’ arrival was the flavour in family life, him searching with his boys for the eggs that were laid. The excitement when they were found was shared and young Tony would look over the fence and invite all to the breakfast.

These happy, cherished moments will hopefully in time offer many moments of pleasure to Tony and Dan.

Thomond Park was packed to the rafters for a Munster match with Glasgow, with supporters in their seats more than 20 minutes before the 1pm kick off time to facilitate a special tribute to the 42-year-old Munster legend Anthony Foley on Saturday October 22. There were emotional and poignant scenes ahead of Munster's 38-17 victory.

Thomond Park was packed to the rafters for a Munster match with Glasgow, with supporters in their seats more than 20 minutes before the 1pm kick-off time to facilitate a special tribute to the 42-year-old Munster legend Anthony Foley on Saturday, October 22. There were emotional and poignant scenes ahead of Munster’s 38-17 victory.

Brendan Foley, I can honestly say, is one of nature’s gentlemen. I can see some of you saying to yourselves ‘that guy knows nothing of rugby’.  Brendan, you and Shelia handed to your son a deep sense of being loved, valued and cared for, he has handed it on to his sons and, please God, having known that love themselves, they too, in time, will  hand it on to their children.  A treasured gift that truly enriches lives.

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. That outreach made all the difference to these people. He offered people hope when they felt hopeless, confidence when they were deflated and simply wished them on when they were unable to do it themselves. 

In this way, he lived his Christianity in the real world and loudly gave witness to the message of Jesus – “do unto others as you would like done onto you”.

In your family statement issued during the week, you said of Anthony, and I quote, “he was a central, go-to figure for the wider Foley and Hogan families”.  He was that surely and so much more. From what we heard people giving personal witness to, he was also a ‘go-for’ and a ‘go-with’ person.

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 never walk alone’.

There is a lovely story, the Parable of the Pencil. I love it and often use it to encourage young people as they set out on their journey in life. The message to the pencil is to make your mark.

Anthony ‘Axel’ Foley made many a mark in his 42 short years of life.  Just look around and see; the indelible, warm, affirming marks he left on family, friends, colleagues, sports fans, this local community, rugby wherever it is spoken of – to name but a few.  Olive may the benchmark of his love be the ray of light that dispels the incomprehensible darkness you speak of in the family statement, a darkness “that we must work our way through over the coming, days, weeks and years”.

Be assured of our prayers and good wishes for you all on that journey. Today, as we commend Anthony to the care of God, we ask that he may sleep that sleep of peace in God’s presence. I am fairly certain God could do with a top-class Number 8. 

Our prayer for you Olive, Brendan, Shelia and your families and, indeed, for the extended family is

“May the warmth of the love you had for each other act as a blanket to wrap around you

May it be warm enough to keep away the chill of loneliness

Soft enough to soothe you

Strong enough to support you

And may your beloved Anthony, rest in peace in the loving embrace of God”

A special commemorative match programme, documenting Anthony’s life in rugby and the tributes paid to him in recent days, sold out, with Munster set to print further copies.

A percentage of the proceeds from sales will go towards a fund or charitable cause to be agreed upon by the Foley family with support from Munster Rugby.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and family at this difficult time. May he rest in peace.

You can find the online book of condolences here.
You can read more about Munster Rugby here.

 

 

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

X