Friends, family and team-mates recall 'the kindness, cheer and good nature' as GAA star James is laid to rest
MOURNERS grieving the killing of a popular GAA star were urged yesterday not to dishonour his memory with thoughts of recrimination.
Father-of-three James Hughes was laid to rest in his hometown of Crossmaglen, south Armagh, five days after being gunned down as he sat in a taxi in Dundalk last Sunday.
Friends and family lined the streets of the town to honour one of their own.
His coffin, draped in the black and gold flag of his beloved Crossmaglen Rangers GAA club, was brought from his father's home to St Patrick's Church for funeral Mass, carried by his devastated team-mates.
In a silent procession led by his partner Genny, three sons and father James Snr, the coffin was carried the short distance to the clubhouse, where the cortege briefly paused as a mark of respect to the man who had served as club captain and won three All-Ireland club medals.
Tears flowed as the cortege then continued to St Patrick's. The only sound came from the church bell.
Fr Joseph McKeever spoke of how the devastating events of the last week had numbed so many, with "hearts heavily laden with the pain and darkness of our grief".
He described the deceased as: "A friend whose open-heartedness, kindness, cheer and good nature made many blessed to have his friendship -- made us privileged to have known him and to have had him as a beacon of hope and joy in our lives."
Fr McKeever offered the community's deepest sympathies to James senior, his three children, Lee, Tiernan and Darragh, and his partner Genny.
The priest also spoke of how the death was the second tragedy to befall the grief-stricken family this year, after Mr Hughes's mother Joan died in April from sudden adult death syndrome.
Mr Hughes was shot as he sat in a taxi with a friend, Patricia Byrne (21), at around 4am on Sunday, outside a house at Cluain Ard in the Lis na Dara estate. Ms Byrne and taxi driver Anthony Callan were injured
Fr McKeever said no "crazed act of violence" could ever extinguish the soul. "Today, 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.
"Rather let us try and honour James in our own lives and in our own standards by imitating his wonderfully caring humanity, his constant eagerness to help others and to reach out to all he knew and love. Let none of us travel or lead others down the futile cul-de-sac of loose-tongue talk, retribution or revenge."
He added: "Let us leave civil justice with the courts of justice and divine justice with the courts of the Lord."
Among the mourners were Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, Conor Murphy, and the former Armagh senior football manager Joe Kernan, who took a turn carrying the coffin.
In a brief tribute, Oisin McConville, a close friend of the deceased, said Mr Hughes's last words to him were that he loved him. "James, we love you too," he said to applause.
Mr McConville, an All-Star and All-Ireland winner, said Mr Hughes, whom he affectionately referred to as "wee James", had "enriched all our lives".
A Crossmaglen Rangers jersey, football and cup, reflecting Mr Hughes's love for the game, were brought to the altar as gifts during the poignant service.
The 35-year-old had captained the club's second team to league success last year.
A tractor and trowel, highlighting his farming and plastering background, and fishing rod were also among the gifts, while hymns 'Be Not Afraid', 'Pie Jesu' and U2's 'With Or Without You' were also performed during the emotional service.
Fr McKeever spoke of Mr Hughes's universal popularity in the community, his tireless humanity and the esteem in which he was held.
After the service, Mr Hughes's coffin was taken the brief walk to the family plot next to the church and he was laid to rest where his mother had been buried earlier this year.
Shane Rogers, of Deery Terrace, Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, appeared before Dundalk District Court earlier in the week charged with the murder of Mr Hughes.