Grief stricken All-Ireland winner Lester Ryan: 'I would ask anyone who knew and met Daddy to keep those good experiences in their hearts'
Family, community, farming, the GAA: sometimes all so entwined it’s difficult to tell the end of one or the beginning of the other.
Such as today in the little country parish of Clara, a few kilometres from Kilkenny city, when hundreds turned out as Johnny Ryan, a popular farmer and hurling man, was laid to rest.
The 61-year-old lost his life on Wednesday in an accident on his farm at Dunbell in Clara, a couple of kilometres from St Colman’s Church and cemetery where he was taken on his last journey today as his grief-stricken wife Lilly and sons Tom, Liam and All-Ireland-winning captain Lester said their last goodbyes.
Johnny Ryan was the first to die in a farming-related incident this year and his shocking passing came just days after a Late Late Show discussion about farm safety, when the relatives of others who have died on the farm over the years came together to promote the issue.
His own son Lester spoke during the week about how ironic it was that Johnny should die in such a way, as he was known by many for his insistence on safety at all times and for taking the correct precautions when going about his work. It was a freak accident, when a tractor and machinery rolled backwards and trapped him, that claimed the former hurler’s life.
Prayers were said at today’s Mass for all who have died in farm accidents.
Guards of honour were provided as the hearse carrying the remains travelled from the family home to the church, under bright sunshine but in piercing cold, by, among others, members of the Kilkenny hurling panel who draped their jerseys over their shoulders as the coffin passed; the Clara GAA juveniles and also the local team of 1986 who won the club’s first ever senior county hurling title, with Johnny Ryan at centre-back.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was among the mourners, as was former IFA president John Bryan, along with star names from the All-Ireland champions who only a few short months ago brought the Liam McCarthy Cup into the parish, led by their captain and Johnny’s son, Lester.
Today, Lester spoke briefly at the funeral Mass to thank the huge crowd for attending and to thank the many who helped in any way “during this very sad occasion” and in the dark time since Wednesday’s tragedy.
“We’ve received huge support these last few tough days,” he said. “The visits of people near and far has genuinely eased the suffering of our family. I particularly want to thank Clara GAA Club and the people of Clara, and the wider GAA community, some of whom went to great lengths to pay their respects in one way or another. Daddy, at this time, would not wish me to plamáss him from the altar. So I would just ask all of you who knew and met Daddy to keep those good experiences in their hearts.”
Among the several celebrants at the funeral Mass were Johnny’s uncle, Fr Harry Ryan, while chief celebrant was parish priest of Clara, Fr Larry O’Keeffe.
Symbols of Johnny Ryan’s life which were carried to the altar included a family photograph, a Clara GAA jersey, his 1986 county senior medal and a farm tag to represent his life on the farming.