'He gave so much and will always be our baby boy'
Chef Derry and wife pay tearful tribute to tragic 16-year-old son
'This was a devastating experience and incomprehensible. He was so young," said Fr Leonard Moloney SJ in his homily at the funeral Mass of Andrew Clarke, the 16-year-old son of celebrity restaurateurs Derry and Sallyanne Clarke.
Fr Moloney, who was both Andrew's headmaster and priest at his school, Clongowes Wood in Clane, said his parents were now experiencing a "tsunami" of pain and grief.
Directly addressing Derry and Sallyanne and his only sister, Sarah May, he said: "Andrew, your baby, and known here to the boys as Andy, was 'a loveable rogue'.
"Within two weeks of his arrival, he had coined a nickname for every teacher and prefect. His peers enjoyed him. He was a bit of a lad. We are not talking about a saint but then the apple does not fall far from the tree, in the very best sense."
Fr Leonard said Andrew's love of cars was well known.
"He loved fishing and he loved diving off the pier down in Cork into the cold, southern waters. There was much hidden talent energy and he liked to live on the edge.
"Andrew was always honest. We would ask: 'Were you smoking down in the pleasure gardens again?' He would simply say 'Yep'. Straight-up honesty is what you got. He knew every member of staff in the kitchen and in the refectory. To them he was a young man in good form, always smiling. And we were all familiar with that impish grin," Fr Leonard said.
"Yet here we are this morning, stunned and grieving and wondering why God has let this happen – that he should go to his heavenly home so young," he said.
At the end of the funeral Mass, Derry and Sallyanne read from letters they had sent to Andrew late last year as part of a Kairos retreat their son was attending. The letters told him how much they loved him, how much he meant to them.
The letters formed a final epistle from Sallyanne and Derry to their lost son who died tragically in hospital, after being found unconscious in the garage at the family home in Saggart, Co Dublin.
The car racing fanatic's funeral drew hundreds to the chapel at the private Co Kildare academy.
The service was punctuated by music and poetry from Andrew's family and his friends from Clongowes.
Mourners included TV chefs Darina Allen, Richard Corrigan, Paul Rankin, Paolo Tullio, Kevin Thornton and Andrew Rudd as well as close friends Pat Kenny and his wife Kathy, Dylan McGrath from Rustic Stone, RTE's Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and Robbie Fox and his wife Martina.
Sallyanne spoke movingly of her son and read from the letter she wrote to Andrew as he embarked on his retreat – a period of reflection that he would later tell Derry were some of "the best days of his life".
"My dearest darling Andrew. You are my darling boy. I love you so very much and so does your Dad, Sarah May, Nana and everyone who knows you," her letter to her son began.
"You'll always be my baby. You're a charmer, a wonderful young man and I'm proud to call you my son," she said.
It was clear that the letters have been an immense comfort to the grieving parents.
Sallyanne recalled: "Andrew had confidence beyond his years. He was a witty boy with a heart of gold, who loved everyone and who everyone loved. If prayers and goodwill alone could sustain life, Andrew would be jumping up and down at this moment, such has been the outpouring."
She spoke, too, of his sister Sarah May and the close bond between them.
"Sarah May was so delighted to have a baby brother and she adored him and he adored her too. They were a mighty force when they got together.
"They used to tease Derry and I, nicely but incessantly. They used to finish off each other's sentences," Sallyanne told the mourners.
"He was funny, brave, kindhearted and he took trouble for those around in him. He took pride in the fact that he was able to help the less confident boys in here in Clongowes Wood College. He had a little difficulty in settling here himself in the early days.
"Andrew was an exceptional young man but an entirely normal 16-year-old with the natural imperatives of his age. He could be stubborn. If he didn't want to do something, he didn't do it and he could wear us down if he wanted something. Sometimes I would have to ring his sister and say 'Sarah May, please tell him that n and o means no.
"'What part of that does he not understand?' When he was so insistent that he earned a rebuke, Andrew's cheeky response would always be, 'Ah but you love me mam, don't you?'"
She also recalled the close bond between father and son, and the love of sailing they shared.
"They spent a month last summer around Sherkin Island on the boat, up and down to Dingle. The two of them spent last December 23 in town doing the Christmas shopping together. They were great pals. . . and it was Derry who would bring him motor racing to Wales or Belfast or over to Mondello because I could not bear to see my baby going around corners at 100mph. He was a fantastic friend to so many people here today, particularly his great pal, Michael Kelly. Andrew and Michael had been friends since they were eight.
"So you are with the angels in heaven my darling son and you will never be forgotten. I will always love you," she said.
Derry also quoted from the letter he had written to his son. "I remember the day you were born. You were a gorgeous baby, so full of life. It was one of the proudest days of my life and I was so happy. Sarah May was your first visitor. She had a smile on her face for days afterwards. We all had," the letter said.
And he also recalled the most precious moments of their life together.
"I must say the part of the day I looked forward to most was collecting you after school after lunch with you talking non-stop about your day. I loved your big generous personality with kindness to others which you have never lost.
"'We are not here for a long time but for a good time' has always been my motto and for his 16 years it was Andrew's, too. Finally, Andrew, thank you for being the son any father would be proud of, a beautiful young man. My feeling for you will never ever change. You will always be in my heart. I love you son. Your Dad."