Village unites in grief as it buries local hero
A PHOTOGRAPH of Brian Casey's smiling face radiated from the top of his coffin around the packed church. As members of a close-knit community listened in stunned silence to tributes, it was almost impossible not to focus on his sweet smile.
It was a beaming smile that was captured just two years ago when Brian, wearing his treasured maroon and white club jersey, was part of the Lissycasey senior football team that won the Clare county title and secured the coveted Jack Daly cup.
It was one of his proudest moments, and the achievement meant a huge amount to a community where Gaelic football is a central part of daily life.
But, tragically, the joy and delight experienced throughout the community of Lissycasey -- a thriving village just 12 miles west of Ennis -- on that wonderful day in 2007 contrasted sharply with harrowing scenes that took centre stage over the past week. The entire community has been rocked to its core during what has been a bleak Christmas in the rural area.
Brian, who worked as a schoolteacher, sustained serious head injuries in an incident at the centre of Ennis town on St Stephen's night and died in hospital at lunchtime last Monday. His death was one of three tragedies that hit Lissycasey in just 24 hours.
As the community of just 1,600 residents struggled to come to terms with his death, they were also mourning the deaths of two men who lost their lives in weather-related incidents. Pat Kelly, a 48-year-old father of six young children, died on St Stephen's Day when his jeep skidded in icy conditions on his farm.
And retired farmer Tommy Meere died in hospital on Monday from injuries he suffered when he slipped and fell in ice outside his home on Christmas Day.
As hundreds of people braved the bitter cold during Christmas week to say goodbye to the men, it was poignant that the three would be buried in close proximity to each other in the village cemetery. They had lived within a five-mile radius of each other; and given the strong community spirit that is alive in Lissycasey, the tragedies have had a profound effect on everyone. And as the nation welcomed the start of 2010, new year celebrations were far from the minds of this heartbroken neighbourhood.
On the contrary, it was preparing to say its final goodbyes to Brian, having buried Tommy on Tuesday and Pat on Wednesday. In his homily at Brian's funeral Mass on New Year's Day, Fr Peter O'Loughlin said it was a "very sad and tragic occasion" and "no words" could be of any comfort to the Casey family.
"Our hearts go out to you. We have no answers as to why this happened to someone so good. . . We have our questions as to why and we will have those questions for a long time to come," said Fr O'Loughlin.
Tears flowed in Our Lady Of The Wayside Church, Lissycasey, as tokens of Brian's life were carried to the altar. These included his football jersey, football medals, cattle cards to mark his interest in the family farm, and a woodwork project by one of his students.
Brian's brother Niall explained that the woodwork project was chosen as it reflected how Brian's priority was to pass on his own passion, perfection and enthusiasm to his students.
He described his only brother as dedicated, through all aspects of his life, and recalled how his "pride, passion and determination" had always shone through.
Brian's sister Martina flew home from the US last Sunday to be by her little brother's bedside in his final hours.
She told the packed congregation about the closeness their family had enjoyed and the love that Brian had brought into all of their lives. Like many young men his age, Brian had a huge appetite; he also loved to work on the farm, flourished academically, enjoyed playing football, and adored his girlfriend.
"A model teacher, inspiring son, loyal friend and most wonderful brother" was how Martina described her brother and best friend.
"His discipline, sacrifice and courage served him well in all walks of life," she said in a moving tribute. Given the huge influence of Gaelic football in the village, there was no shortage of reference to this in the ceremony.
"Brian has left behind much more than an empty jersey hanging on a peg in the dressing room," Martina said.
Brian was an ordinary young man who lived an ordinary life. Sadly, that young life was suddenly cut short last weekend.
And while a rural community pulls together to rally behind those most affected by the anguish, the area will never comprehend and will never recover fully.
There are far more questions than will ever present answers to this sorry tale.
Brian's parents, Martin and Eileen Casey, will never be able to understand why their son did not return home on St Stephen's night. Tragically, several parents are forced to face a similar predicament every week due to factors outside their control.
It has been a dark, dreary Christmas for the village of Lissycasey and the haunting memories will never go away.