Hundreds pay respects to tragic adventurer struck by lightning
Devastated family, friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts packed the St Laurence O'Toole Church in Roundwood, Co Wicklow, last night as the body of the 42-year-old mountain climber was removed to the church ahead of his funeral Mass there today.
Among the mourners were comedian Mario Rosenstock and Today FM DJ Philip Cawley, who were friends of Mr McKeever.
The body of the lecturer and broadcaster from Lough Dan in Co Wicklow arrived back on a flight from Tanzania via Zurich yesterday morning.
His friend Eugene Grey described the seven-day wait for the remains to be repatriated as "a very long difficult week, in particular for the family".
However, Mr McKeever's friends and family, including his fiancee Anna O'Loughlin (34), who arrived at the church on crutches after being injured during the same climb, have said their pain has been eased by the thousands of tributes to Mr McKeever that have poured in from around the world.
"We are happy to have Ian finally at home in Ireland, where he will be laid to rest," Mr Grey said.
"We are overwhelmed by the magnitude of condolences and tributes paid to Ian, which is a testament to the wonderful work that he did for the benefit of others," he added.
Mr McKeever's brother-in-law Paul McCormack said the explorer's family had only now realised just how "special and inspirational" he was to so many people, particularly children.
He was seen as a role model who inspired children and teenagers to set goals and achieve them after breaking the record for climbing the world's seven highest peaks in 2007.
"He typifies what you'd call a modern-day hero. He was an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things," Mr McCormack said ahead of the removal, which was conducted by Kilquade parish priest Fr Liam Belton.
Meanwhile, a group of secondary school students who previously climbed Africa's highest peak with Mr McKeever are planning a charity climb in his honour.
The students from Presentation College in Athenry, Co Galway, plan to climb the four Connemara Peaks on St Patrick's Day in memory of the intrepid climber and to raise funds for Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin.
Describing Mr McKeever as "a truly inspirational person", the students penned a touching tribute to the climber who helped them complete their Kilimanjaro challenge last August as part of his Kilimanjaro Achievers organisation.
Aisling Duffy (16) from Turloughmore, Co Galway, who took part in the climb last August, said the students wanted to remember him in a fitting way.
"Without Ian I definitely wouldn't be the same person I am now. We wanted to do something for him because he did so much for all of us. The climb is for charity and it's something Ian would do himself," she said.