HUNDREDS of mourners gathered yesterday to say a final farewell to the much loved and admired record-breaking mountain climber Ian McKeever.
The 42-year-old adventurer died two weeks ago when he was struck by lightning as he led a group of climbers on a trek up Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
His fiancee, Anna O'Loughlin, who was also injured during the lightning strike, was walking with the aid of crutches yesterday and was helped into the church by members of Ian's family as father Neil, mother Aedeen and sister Denise took their seats at the top of Saint Laurence O'Toole church in Roundwood, County Wicklow.
The Voice of Ireland presenter Kathryn Thomas and former TV3 Xpose star Lorraine Keane, along with Ian's former colleagues in AA Roadwatch, including Conor Faulkner, also attended the popular charity fundraiser's funeral.
Music was provided by Ian's friends including Meteor Award winner Luan Parle who sang the Dublin man's favourite tune, Elton John's Your Song.
Fr Liam Belton said there were many people in attendance who loved Ian during the course of their lives and also many people who understood what the word "challenge" meant as a result of meeting the climber.
"Ireland's lost a very charismatic person – a person who showed great enthusiasm for everything he approached," Fr Belton said.
Ian's childhood friend David Burke told how Ian would say his happiest days were when he was in Clonkeen College in Blackrock.
His friend said the adventurer was the only boy he knew who would cycle to school on cold winter mornings with only his school shirt on as his peers wrapped themselves up in duffle coats.
Mr Burke said this was an early example of how Ian was "a man amongst boys".
He also said Ian had been extremely proud when he received a standing ovation after a speech he made at a recent college reunion.
In a touching tribute, Mr Burke said: "In a world where so many, through either the need, the pressure of family desires or even through laziness, live very predictable lives, thank God for people like Ian, who recognised there is another way for them. The road less travelled, pushing yourself to the limit, call it what you will.
"It's a way with many pitfalls, potential for mistakes and even more critics but that's what makes this world move forward, but I expect Ian would just call it his life."
His former college lecturer, and later his business partner, Eugene Grey paid tribute to Ian's "amicability and fun-loving nature" and praised "his ability to motivate and to collectively encourage people to do things".
Mr Grey said: "I have witnessed his uniqueness, his ability and I have shared and had the privilege of handling his media relations on some of his greatest personal and business exploits and I have watched how the population of Ireland embraced him into their hearts."
Gordon Macanbhaird from the Kilimanjaro Achievers Charity told how Ian's health and safety on his Kilimanjaro trips was "impeccable".
"His death was the only death during his Kilimanjaro treks, and I know he would have wanted that said," Mr Macanbhaird said.
Following the service, members of Blanchardstown GAA formed a guard of honour as Ian's coffin was brought from the church to a private cremation ceremony.