THOUSANDS of mourners paid their respects to tragic hurler Niall Donohue as well-known figures from the GAA called to the family home throughout the day.
The sense of grief was palpable in the small village of Kilbeacanty, Co Galway, as locals rallied around to assist the heartbroken Donohue family.
The community has remained shrouded in devastation since news of Niall's untimely death emerged. The 22-year-old was found dead at home on Wednesday night. He would have celebrated his 23rd birthday on Friday.
A Facebook tribute from the village, listed on the Kilbeacanty Old and New site, read: "There is a cloud over Kilbeacanty, the sun came up but it did not take away the darkness. You can feel the sorrow, nearly see it."
The remains of the popular young hurler were brought home on Friday evening, where the family – his father Francis, brother Shane and sister Orla – held a private vigil with relatives.
From 3pm yesterday, friends, colleagues, team-mates and hurling fans made their way to the family home in Ballyturn outside Kilbeacanty to sympathise with the family and pay their respects.
Legendary GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh called to the family home on Friday night, as did the president of the GAA Liam O'Neill.
Also paying their respects yesterday were Niall's second cousin, Clare hurler Shane O'Donnell, and the full Galway senior panel. Retired Cork hurler Tomas Mulcahy also paid his respects.
A number of chairmen from the GAA hierarchy around the country also called to the Donohue family home, including Ned Quinn of the Kilkenny County Board, Leinster Council chairman Martin Skelly and Frank Burke, chairman of the Connacht Council.
In the past five days the community has rallied around the Donohue family, especially Niall's heartbroken father and siblings.
Niall was raised by his father Francis following the death of his mother Mary.
The family had only been getting over the loss of Niall's grandmother, who died in recent months, and to whom Niall was particularly close.
Locals from the community and Kilbeacanty GAA club worked as stewards, manning all access roads to the village in a bid to keep traffic flowing.
Hurling stars came out to pay their respects to a much-loved team-mate and opponent yesterday.
Among those who arrived at the Donohue home was Noel Treacy, chairman of the Galway County Board and Galway manager Anthony Cunningham.
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Friends of the young man who were based in Australia had accompanied his brother Shane home. Niall has also spent a brief period in Australia after finishing school. Prior to his tragic death he had worked at Lisk Ireland Manufacturing in nearby Gort and a number of his colleagues also attended the removal.
While he was a gifted hurler, for his local community he was remembered for much more than his sporting achievements. They called to mind instead the "shy, unassuming lad who was happier talking to old lads in McCarthy's or young kids at the pitch or being with his large circle of friends than being in the spotlight."
As the huge crowds continued to arrive throughout the evening, the local GAA club appealed to the public to respect the family's call for privacy this morning.
"It has been a tough week for the family and it will be a long tiring couple of days for them also, they are our priority right now and whatever they wish for we will carry out. Please be patient and sensitive as the whole parish is in mourning right now and together we will do what needs to be done to ensure Niall and his family get the respect he deserves," read a statement from the Kilbeacanty GAA club.
The young hurler's remains will be removed to St Columba's Church in Kilbeacanty this morning. Funeral mass will take place at 1pm with burial in Rakerin graveyard.
As a mark of respect for Niall, the Galway SHC final between Loughrea and Portumna which had been due to take place today has been rescheduled to tomorrow.