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Harry Byrne 'will always touch our hearts with his kind, gentle and warm spirit’, funeral hears after tragic hurling accident

The funeral of Harry Byrne (13) who died in a freak accident this week after being hit by a sliotar has taken place today 

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Mourners gather as the coffin of Harry Byrne (13), draped with his Young Irelands GAA jersey, is carried to the cemetery of the Church of the Assumption in Gowran, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Mourners gather as the coffin of Harry Byrne (13), draped with his Young Irelands GAA jersey, is carried to the cemetery of the Church of the Assumption in Gowran, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Harry Byrne

Harry Byrne

Locals, friends and mourners lined the street this afternoon at the funeral of Harry Byrne (13) from Gowran, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Locals, friends and mourners lined the street this afternoon at the funeral of Harry Byrne (13) from Gowran, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

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Mourners gather as the coffin of Harry Byrne (13), draped with his Young Irelands GAA jersey, is carried to the cemetery of the Church of the Assumption in Gowran, Co Kilkenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Harry Byrne (13) who died in a freak accident this week after being hit by a sliotar while playing with his school pals, was so obsessed with the sport that he would speed-eat his lunchtime sandwiches to ensure he maximised playing time, his funeral has heard.

Harry from Gowran in Co Kilkenny, was rushed to St Luke’s General Hospital on Monday afternoon after being accidentally hit while playing with friends at lunchtime in the grounds of St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny city.

The talented GAA player, who later died, is survived by his parents Fergal and Annette, and three siblings Jake, Aimee and Sam.

The hearse bearing Harry’s coffin moved slowly from his home in the townland of Clover in Gowran, flanked by members of his beloved Young Irelands GAA club, many of them carrying their hurleys, to the Church of the Assumption for noon mass today.

Pupils and teachers from St Kieran’s College and St Kieran’s GAA club formed a long guard of honour at the church, and saddened members of the close-knit community and Gowran Park golf club stood quiet and numbed supporting the family.

Harry’s own Young Irelands jersey was draped over the coffin when it was brought to the altar, along with a photograph of him.

Addressing the mourners, Fr Dermot Ryan from St Kieran’s College said when someone dies, and especially when someone dies so young and so unexpectedly, there is nothing we can say.

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“There are no words that will ease the pain. All we are left with is questions and hurt. What we do then, this morning, is offer you our support just by our presence and by our prayers,” he added.

Harry’s aunt Emma brought items that represented Harry’s life to the altar. A hurley symbolised Harry’s love of sports including hurling, golf, soccer and rugby; and a family picture representing fun times and adventure time with family.

There was also a whoopee cushion. “Harry had a fantastic sense of humour and loved nothing more than a well executed practical joke,” Emma explained with a smile.

Harry’s gaming controller represented the strong bond he had with all of his friends as they spent endless hours together online, on their bikes, and at the pitch “having the craic”.

His school tie symbolised his love of learning with his friends, first at Gowran national school opposite the church, and then in St Kieran’s in Kilkenny.

And then there was his books. “Harry had the amazing ability to travel to far off fantasy worlds, to books filled with fart jokes, dog men and magic wands,” said his aunt.

A Bible and a heart of gold were also brought forward. “Our beautiful Harry touched, and will always touch our hearts, with his kind, gentle and warm spirit,” Emma added.

In his homily, Fr Ryan told how Harry hurled recently at left half forward – proudly wearing the number 12 jersey in Gowran's County Final Win.

“You can't hurl at number 12 and not have midfield feeding you a ball, a half back line depending on you to be there for a pass, a goalie searching for you for every other puck out.

“You can't hurl at 12 and not have a manager demanding points, supporters crying for runs, and full forwards lazily expecting you to do all the work – to then deliver them the perfect pass for that simple finish.

“You can't hurl at 12 and not have the opposition half backs wonder where this run will lead, why you are turning there and what will happen with the next 50/50 ball. You can't hurl at 12 unless you're willing to give it your all,” he said.

“I think we could come up with a worse analogy for our lives than team sport. Because like being part of a team, we each have our own role to play. Each of us makes our invaluable contribution to those that we live with, journey with, learn with and play with.

“It is only when something changes – only when something shifts that we look around and we realise the contribution we were making. It is often only after they are pulled up that we notice the absence of their great contribution. How much we relied on them – how much we needed them – how great a part of our life they had been.

“And so it was with the death of Harry – when the accident happened on Monday last. Harry at that moment was with his closest friends doing what he loved  – surrounded by them, chatting with them, playing with them, hurling with them, joking with them and laughing with them, and then so suddenly and unexpected, his death on Tuesday has left us bereft,” he added.

“Harry reminds us all that a life is not defined as full by length of days, but rather by the quality of them, by the fullness of them, by the manner in which we lived them, and ultimately by the legacy he leaves. And how full Harry's life was. You needed only to look at the walls of colour that adorned his home – those happy pictures of a life well lived.

“Since his death we realise, in a sharp and clear way – the immense contribution that Harry made to our lives. The love he gave, the love he caused and the love he received,” he explained.

At the end of the mass, Harry’s aunt Michelle Byrne and uncle John Nolan, told many stories of the young boy with the sparkle in his eye and a big cheeky smile.

They painted a picture of a young lad with endless energy, joy, love, mischief, and fun, who was proud of his family, saying once that his brother Jake taught him everything he knew about hurling.

He was also showing an entrepreneurial streak even at a young age, like when he and his sister Aimee made a scarecrow called Bob, and Harry later tried to sell it on DoneDeal for €50, and even once tried to sell his brother Sam on DoneDeal too.

They also told a story of how Harry ‘rented’ a computer monitor to his aunt Sinead for €20 a month when she needed to work from Granny Teresa’s home because of Covid. Sinead had expected Covid to be over after one month, so there was laughter when Harry arrived at the door four months later to discuss the rental arrears.

Mourners were told Harry loved making friends, and when he started in St Kieran’s and found out he would be in a different class to the rest of the Gowran boys, he told his mother: “It’s great ma, We can all make more friends between us this way.”

Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin Denis Nulty read the final prayer, and after the requiem mass, Harry’s remains were carried the short distance to the adjoining cemetery where neighbours, friends, the community, schools and sports club members stood buffeted in the early winter blustery wind, unified in sadness and support for the Byrnes and their extended family.


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