Friends and teammates in tears as mourners recall match-winning heroics of hurler (13)
"I hope you can imagine the happiness he felt going to sleep that night with dreams of glory and the ring of applause in his ears."
Friends, teammates and classmates cried openly at yesterday's funeral Mass as a heartfelt tribute was paid to a 13-year-old boy who died from an asthma attack.
James Long, from Kilmallock, Co Limerick, died last Thursday just hours after he scored the winning goal for his club in a crucial U-14 hurling championship match.
Saints Peter and Paul Church in Kilmallock was packed beyond capacity yesterday as an entire community consoled his family and remembered the aspiring sports star.
Sean Twomey -- principal of Colaiste Iosaef secondary school where James had completed first year -- told the congregation that his grieving family was moved by everyone's support since his death.
The number 18 jersey James wore when introduced as a substitute in his final hurling game was placed alongside his coffin. James was laid out in a Limerick GAA jersey as his mother, Barbara, and family sat nearby.
Mr Twomey said James was affectionate enough to appreciate a cuddle from his mother and still tried to be protective of his older sisters, Kate (18) and Sarah (16).
"When we think of death, it is usually with the thoughts of the approaching winter of life and not with the summer of youth. It never feels right when someone so young is taken from us," Mr Twomey said.
More than 1,000 people fell silent as Mr Twomey recalled James's final moments on a hurling field.
"I think all of us will prefer to remember James not as he is today but as he was last Wednesday evening," he said.
"The joy he felt scoring that goal to win the match against Patrickswell was probably huge. The promise to tell his mum about the 'rasper' he scored would be sheer bliss. The joy, probably as much for the goal, as for the opportunity to talk about it for the rest of the year.
"I hope you can imagine the happiness he felt going to sleep that night with dreams of glory and the ring of applause in his ears.
"The poet William Blake said 'mourn not my passing, but celebrate my life'. Remember him as the boy with a twinkle in his eye smiling with delight and with his hands in the air," Mr Twomey said to applause.
As friends cried openly, former Limerick hurler Canon Willie Fitzmaurice, the Kilmallock parish priest, addressed the teenagers and said it was the first time many of them had encountered the death of someone from their own age group.
"It is not easy to come to terms with the death of a friend. All life is precious, but fragile. Joys and sorrows live next door to one another," he said.
"No life can ever be a complete fairytale -- even for the young," he added.
The same friends formed a guard of honour after the funeral and brought James Long to his final resting place at Bulgaden Cemetery.