Poignant farewell to slain GAA star

December 20, 2011

by Brónagh Murphy

Crossmaglen drew to a standstill on Friday as huge crowds attended the funeral of murdered Crossmaglen Rangers’ footballer, James Hughes.  Seldom was a funeral on such a scale seen in the town as many hundreds braved the bitter cold to pay their respects to the popular father-of-three who was shot dead as he sat in a taxi in Dundalk the previous Sunday morning.

The tragic circumstances surrounding the killing of the talented footballer stunned the entire community and drew thousands of messages of sympathy and support from the GAA fraternity throughout the country.

Shops and businesses in the town closed for a period as a mark of respect as the cortege made its way from the family home in Lismore. Behind walked James’s heartbroken partner Genny, hand-in-hand with his father James Snr.  The cortege, flanked by his Rangers’ teammates and friends who formed a guard of honour, paused outside the clubrooms where flags flew at half mast.  Hundreds lined the route as club members and officials took turns to carry his coffin, bearing his number 13 jersey and the flag of his beloved club, to St. Patrick’s Church for 1.00pm Requiem Mass.

A palpable sense of grief pervaded the town of Crossmaglen on Friday as mourners packed St. Patrick’s Church to capacity for the funeral of James Hughes.

The congregation heard Fr. McKeever pay tribute to a much-loved man whose family have been left “disillusioned and at a total loss” at his futile death.

He was “a friend whose open-heartedness, kindness, cheer and good nature made many blessed to have his friendship,” the Parish Priest said.

“As fiercely competitive as he was when he donned the Cross jersey, in his social life, and in his attitude and treatment of others off the field, he preferred harmony and helpfulness, building people up with the sheer force of his wonderful personality and his warm character,” he added.

Stating that the entire community is “numb with grief and shock”, Fr. McKeever said James had “a universal popularity” that endeared him the many who were privileged to have known him.  Calling for there to be no retribution for his murder, he said: “As we honour James’s memory and pray for our community in these dark days, we must also pray that none of us will dishonour that precious memory with thoughts or words of recrimination or incitement.”

During the offertory, James’s three sons, Lee, Tiernan and Darragh, joined family members to carry gifts to the altar symbolising his life – a photograph of his sons, his Crossmaglen Rangers jersey, a football, a tractor and plastering tools symbolising his working life, a fishing rod and the Division Two League Cup, which was presented to him as team captain when Rangers won the title last year.

As the service drew to a close, James’ life-long friend and team-mate Oisin McConville addressed the mourners, paying tribute to his close friend, affectionately known as “the wee man.”

“He has enriched our lives in so many different ways.  We are so proud to say we are your friend, wee man.

“The best left foot in Cross’ –  how many times have we heard that?  On this day, we will give you that.

“The last words he said to me were ‘I love you, fein’, and James, we love you too,” Oisin ended.

His personal and heartfelt tribute moved many to tears and drew applause from the congregation.

Immeasurable loss

Seldom has this tight-knit community witnessed such an outpouring of sorrow and grief at the passing of one of its own.  The GAA club at the heart of the Crossmaglen community has been left bereft with the passing of this popular, considerate and amiable man, whose loss is immeasurable.

James Hughes packed a lot into his 35 short years, much of it centred on his passion for football with his beloved Crossmaglen Rangers.  Indeed, it seemed that every club member, from underage to seniors and officials, past and present, donned the club colours and turned out to pay their respects and bid a final farewell to their beloved friend.

James was a star player who led from the front.  A key member of the Rangers’ successful senior team panel for more ten years, he won three All-Ireland Club medals and last year captained club’s Seconds team to League success.

His talent and skill on the field of play were matched only by his kindness and good nature to everyone he met off it.  And the out-pouring of grief at his passing serves only as a symbol of the high esteem in which he was held by all who knew him.

To his partner Genny, sons Lee, Tiernan and Darragh, father James, brothers Christopher, John Paul and Sean, sisters Rita and Geraldine and entire family circle, deepest sympathy is extended.

James was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery next to his mother, Joan, who died suddenly in April.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.