independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Priest urges young people to help end online craze

Father Joe Byrne, far right, father of Jonny Byrne, left, with his son Patrick who is holding a picture of his brother as they walk behind
Jonny’s remains after the funeral Mass at St Lazarian’s Church, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow. FRANK McGRATH
Father Joe Byrne, far right, father of Jonny Byrne, left, with his son Patrick who is holding a picture of his brother as they walk behind Jonny’s remains after the funeral Mass at St Lazarian’s Church, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow. FRANK McGRATH

Young people owe it to Jonny Byrne, the young man who died after a Neknomination dare, to help stop the craze.

Addressing mourners at Jonny's funeral, Fr Tom Lalor, chief celebrant at the Mass at St Lazarian's Church in Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, told his friends they had the power to call a halt to the online drinking game which has already been linked to two deaths here.

"Just as this craze is supposed to have been started by one person, it can be stopped by one person. Let you be that person," he said.

"If you are faced with this challenge, be strong, be great and make a worthwhile contribution. You owe it to Jonathan Byrne."

Hundreds of mourners gathered to say a final farewell to the 19-year-old who drowned in the River Barrow last Saturday after consuming a quantity of alcohol. He was taking part in a Neknomination dare.

Jonny's devastated parents, Kathleen and Joe, and older brother Patrick (26), accompanied the coffin from the family home to the church to the sound of the deeply moving air of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', – the anthem of the young man's beloved Liverpool Football Club.

A guard of honour was formed by sporting clubs from the locality, including Naomh Brid hurlers, Leighlinbridge GAA club, Michael Davitts football club, Vale Wanderer's soccer club, Carlow GAA and also by students from Knockbeg College, the young man's former school.

'MARVELLOUS'

Special symbols encapsulating his life were brought to the altar by close friends Petey Shaw, Philly Keogh and Jordan Doyle. They included a hurley stick, a football and a Liverpool jersey. His brother, Patrick, brought a photograph of Jonny.

His father, Joe, told of the terrible phone call that came in on Saturday night, saying: "It changed our lives forever."

He spoke emotionally of his son as a "marvellous chap" and revealed how he and his wife had been sitting in silence in the kitchen with only the sound of the clock ticking when Kathleen had turned to him and said: "He never treated anyone badly."

"That's the truth," said Mr Byrne.

"Everyone was equal to him, he never cursed or swore," he said, adding that if he was sent off during a match, he never complained.

He shared memories of his son as a talented hurler, adding that he had never gone anywhere without a hurl in his hand – "even to a football match". And he painted a poignantly humorous picture of his son as a two-year-old, who had to be given his own walking stick because he had always taken his grandfather's.

"The two would be together with their walking sticks, hand in hand," he said.

And as Mr Byrne called for a round of applause for Jonny from all those who had known him "even for just five minutes", prolonged clapping rang out in the church.

He thanked all those who had assisted the family "in their darkest hours" and read 'The Hurler's Prayer', which had been given to him at the house by a girl who had been a friend of his son.

Fr Lalor revealed how he had had a phone call from heroic teenager Donal Walsh's mother in Tralee, Co Kerry, and had asked her what he could say to the young people at the funeral. She had called on them to value their spiritual life.

He spoke of the "awful blow" dealt to the family, saying their world had been "torn asunder" and said nothing could be done to lessen their pain.

Peer pressure brought "modern risks, modern challenges" that were unknown in his time, he commented.

And he challenged young people to "be as good a person as Jonathan was" and to get involved in helping and giving.

A poem specially written for Jonny was read aloud by his best friend Petey Shaw, which paid tribute to him as "a man of few words and sarcastic wit".

"We laughed with you, we played with you, now we bury you," he said emotionally.

And then, in sorrow, the coffin was taken from the church, again to the strains of 'You'll Never Walk Alone', for burial at the nearby graveyard.

Nicola Anderson

Irish Independent

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