Tuesday 24 April 2018

'Profound shock, numbness, utter disbelief' - funeral of tragic J1 student who died in swimming accident

Philip Leahy
Philip Leahy

Claire Fox

A PRIEST has paid tribute to the "friendly and witty" student, Phillip Leahy, who was laid to rest today following a tragic accident on his J-1.

Philip (22) from Ballyhooly, Co Cork suffered an apparent cardiac arrest when he got into difficulty while swimming with his friends on a beach in Ocean City, Maryland on August 2. 

Fr Eoin Scanlon told mourners at Philip's funeral mass in the Church of the Nativity in Ballyhooly that he was a young man "who loved life and loved people".

"All of us recall a young man full of enthusiasm, who loved life and loved people, was outgoing, friendly and witty, and who was equally comfortable in the company of old people, children, or those of his own age group," he said.

The priest told Philip's mother, Ann, brothers, William and Patrick and extended family that the entire community would "stand beside you today and for as long as it takes, as you grieve the loss of a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a friend".

He added: "And you, his family - you grieve not only for what you have lost, but also for all that could have been – the hopes and the dreams, for his future in sport, in the career he might have chosen, the husband and father he might have become."

"Your lives were turned upside down.  We can only imagine what that experience was like for you. And so you have experienced a plethora of feelings, some of which you may have never felt before, or never felt so intensely: profound shock, numbness, utter disbelief, anger, emptiness and loss."

Fr Scanlon referred to the community's feeling of "helplessness" following Philip's accident and the GoFundMe campaign and prayer vigils they held to help Philip's recovery.

"Our local community shared your pain, and the utter helplessness of wanting to support you, and yet separated by the Atlantic Ocean.  We felt numb and at a complete loss as to why this should happen to Philip, and to such a good family," he said.   

"It was that same sense of empathy that brought in excess of 300 parishioners to the local GAA pitch to pray and be together, on the Thursday night, and a similar number to a prayer service in the church last Tuesday night.  These were beautiful, spontaneous gestures that speak volumes for both the kind of community we have here in Ballyhooly, and the esteem in which you, Ann and your family are held."

Readings were read by Philip's first cousin, Miriam Walsh and aunt, Mairead Twohig. Last year, Philip captained his local GAA club to win their first ever Junior B Football title. The Ballyhooly jersey and photographs of Philip as Captain were amongst the items displayed on the memorial table during the mass.

Philip was remembered before the Cork and Waterford Senior Hurling Semi-Final in Croke Park yesterday. 

More than €92,000 had been raised by a GoFundMePage set up to fund Philip's medical costs prior to his death. 

Philip had been in the US on his J1 visa since June and was due to return to CIT's sport department this autumn.

He had travelled to Ocean City with friends from college and had been working two jobs throughout the summer.

Last week, Pa O' Connor, the Ballyhooly GAA team goalkeeper told Independent.ie that Philip was the "most genuine and committed" player and that the community had been "devastated" by the accident.

He said Philip was "the first to turn up for training every week and has great heart."

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