Wednesday 18 July 2018

Alex had followed and stayed true to his dream

Friends far and wide and local community gathered around the McGourty family in a poignant show of support as Calry said goodbye to a 19-year-old who loved adventure

The coffin carrying the remains of Alex McGourty is carried by his father and family members from St Patrick’s Church, Calry to the awaiting hearse following the funeral Mass last Tuesday
The coffin carrying the remains of Alex McGourty is carried by his father and family members from St Patrick’s Church, Calry to the awaiting hearse following the funeral Mass last Tuesday

Paul Deering

It was an all too soon end to an epic journey. It was an adventure that should have continued but on Tuesday last the family and many friends of young Alex McGourty gathered in his local parish church to bid him farewell.

St Patrick’s Church and the adjacent community hall where the funeral Mass was relayed on a large screen was packed to capacity and it was clear from everyone present that there was a deep sense of admiration for what Alex had packed into his 19 years.

The first Irishman to be awarded a scholarship into the World Class Kayak Academy based in Washington Alex had spent the past year with the travelling high school that combined education with kayaking some of the best rivers in the world in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a highly trained whitewater kayaker.

And, it was enjoying his adventure in a remote part of Ecuador with his colleagues where Alex tragically lost his life on January 20th having been caught out in a flash flood.

He had left school in fifth year to explore his dream with the blessing of his teachers, Pat Tuohy in particular, and his many friends at Summerhill College.

And, it was a credit to the school on Tuesday last to see the dozens of Alex’s former class mates and present students of the college lining the road and path leading to the church in a poignant guard of honour which must have been a source of some comfort to Alex’s grieving parentsFrankie and Eilish, brothers Aaron, James and sisters Sarah and Ellen.

Present too to greet the hearse atop of which was a kayak were members of the Summerhill College and Sligo Kayak Clubs with paddles raised as the coffin was carried into the church. One of the many beautifully sung songs by the choir was The Voyage made famous by singer Christy Moore and its lyrics echoed the sadness surrounding the community of Calry.

‘Hauled up our anchor, determined not to fail For the hearts treasure, together we set sail With no maps to guide us we steered our own course’

Alex had indeed set sail on his voyage and as his uncle David said in an appreciation near the conclusion of the Mass, his nephew had achieved. He was due to return home later this month but the celebration was one of his life instead and all too soon. The offertory gifts brought to the altar by family members aptly summed up his life.

A picture of Alex at home amongst the smiling children of Nepal was described by chief concelebrant, Fr McGonagle as iconic.

“You have only to look at the smile on his face to know that he was open hearted, kind and generous,” he said.

A second picture was selected by Fr McGonagle himself of Alex kayaking down Washington Fallsas. It “captures his vibrant spirit and his total love of his chosen path in life.”

Another symbol was a peaked cap with the words, World Class emblazoned on it which he wore with great pride, said Fr McGonagle.

There was also a “Christmas gift from Santa “of a map of the world indicating where Alex had travelled, a travel book and “most poignant of all” a buoyancy vest which Fr McGonagle stressed was a sign of Alex’s strong sense of safety and he was someone who never took unnecessary risks.

There was also a jar of hot chilli sauce, a token of his love of cooking and a CD of his favourite music. A collage of pictures of Alex was also present on the altar depicting a young man who loved life, family and friends.

Fr McGonagle, was joined by Fr Noel Rooney, Fr Brian Conway and Fr Gerard Cryan of Summerhil College for the Mass of Christian burial which was streamed live.

He spoke of Alex’s young but eventful life “a life well and truly lived.”

“Our hearts are broken,” he told Alex’s family and how an overwhelming sense of love and compassion was and is still being felt for them.

“When we experience a sudden loss we are robbed of so much more than a son, grandson, brother and friend. An unexpected loss also robs us of our sense of security, our plans and even our joy in life.

“The feelings and emotions you are feeling today are natural to those who have lost a loved one so unexpectedly,” he said.

He said they had also gathered to give thanks to Alex’s life on what was a very difficult day. He was a loving son, grandson, brother an friend.

“Serious at times, kind hearted but also strong and gentle with a keen sense of adventure that led him to travelling the World in pursuit of fulfilling his hopes.

“Alex loved life. And, he loved adventure, believing that life should be lived in the fullest way possible doing what he loved.

“We all know that life is full of questions. Some of us find answers and some of us have questions that go unanswered. We have all felt the sting of death today and Alex’s death reminds us all of how fragile life really is.

“None of us knew that we would be gathering here today for the funeral of Alex, a young man with his whole life ahead of him whose sense of adventure and love of kayaking led him to become an instructor a role he embraced wholeheartedly with the enthusiasm of a young man at the start of a wonderful and exciting future,” he said.

Fr McGonagle said sudden death was like a power cut. “One minute the sun is shining and everyone is happy and then without the slightest warning or the chance to prepare ourselves we are plunged into the depths of darkness. In the space of that single moment our whole life is turned upside down never to be the same again.”

The news of Alex’s death brought a devastating shock to Alex’s family and the local community.

“I find today that words are woefully inadequate to express the pain and the sorrows in the depths of our heart,” he said.

Everyone had felt numb and had asked why this had happened to Alex. He had simply been caught up in the force of nature, a flash flood which changed the lives of everyone here forever.

His dream had been to become an international kayaking tour guide, which tragically will now not be fulfilled said Fr McGonagle adding that while life was precious it was also very fragile.

“So many plans, so many expectations can be no more. No mother and no father expect to bury a child,” he said.

Alex was witty but also focussed.

“He made friends very easily and now that life has been cut tragically short.

“Alex has died too young, too soon and it is through these tragic circumstances that has allowed us to see the remarkable impact which Alex has made on those in his life.”

Alex’s uncle, David said it came no great surprise to him that Alex chose a water sport. It was in his blood he said having taken his love of the water from his grandfather.

In a tribute to his nephew, David quoted from the words of Eric Jackson, a world champion kayaker in a poem entitled ‘Just Paddling’ penned in 2002:

‘Long drive to the river.

Short nights sleep.

Cold, wet gear goes on, I shiver.

Not a care in the world, I’m

Just paddling.

River’s low, so is money,

Yet enough to get vertical and play,

Then come home to dinner, and my honey.

Life is good when I’m,

Just paddling

Buddies pull in late, crash on my RV floor.

We’ll go hard tomorrow, then go some more.

Some see us as machos battling.

Think what you like but we’re,

Just paddling.

Just paddling is a mission, an obsession,

There is no other way to be there.

I’m there and I understand it is not fair.

I have many friends that I wish could also be,

Just paddling.

Sligo Champion