BRIDE Street Church was full to overflowing on Monday for the Requiem Mass of well-known Wexford postman Joe Thomas, a man whose name is synonymous with sea scouting in Wexford.
Joe died on Friday at Wexford Hospital at the age of 57 following a short illness. He had been a member of the sea scouts for more than 50 years.
A large contingent of uniformed scouts, many from his own unit, the 2nd Wexford Port of Wexford Sea Scouts, formed the honour guard in front of the hearse at the church while uniformed postmen stood to the rear of the flower-filled vehicle.
Scouts from yesteryear had travelled from far and wide for the funeral Mass, many wearing parts of uniforms - kneckerchiefs and shirts - they had kept from their youth as a mark of respect for 'the skipper'.
'We're at a total loss,' said Gavin Donovan, 2nd Wexford's assistant scout leader.
'We didn't just lose a scout leader, we lost a father figure, a teacher, and a mentor all in one person,' Gavin told this newspaper after leading the solemn funeral procession from Bride Street Church to Crosstown Cemetery where members of the troop said their sad farewells to Joe flanked by grieving members of his family.
'We are absolutely heartbroken to lose Joe. Scout groups throughout the county and country have expressed their sorrow at his passing. Scouting is like a family and we have lost a father figure,' said Gavin, who first met Joe when he joined the sea scouts 25 years ago.
'Joe's whole life was scouting. He wasn't married, he had bothers and sisters, but his life was scouting...he meant the world to us.'
During the Mass, the congregation was told by Joe's brother Richard that Joe 'was as a shy person who left his mark', and who had taught his beloved sea scouts everything he knew about camping, sailing and lifeskills as a sea scout in his own iniminatable way.
Prayers of the Faithful included the Sailor's- and the Fisherman's Prayer while a skipper's hat, a compass, a bosun's whistle, a fishing reel and a knife were among the offerings. A large photograph of Joe on his boat 'Don II' stood in front of the altar.
Scouting Ireland said it has heard of Joe's passing 'with a heavy heart'.
Mayor George Lawlor said Joe was a man who dedicated his life to the betterment of others, in particular in the area of the sea scouts where he gave countless hours to young people to ensure that sea scouting was available to them.
'He went about his job as a postman with his usual friendly, efficient disposition and will be sadly missed by all those who knew him,' said the mayor.
Jack Higginbotham, of Wexford Lifeboat said, 'Joe was a lifelong supporter of the RNLI and instilled the work that they had in his troops. He was also a founding member of the Wexford Friends of the Tall Ships.'
New Ross Sea Scouts said on their Facebook page 'that is with a heavy heart that I have to inform you of the passing of our group leader, skipper and friend Joe Thomas, who passed away at 5.30 this evening surrounded by family and friends...may he rest in peace, gone but never forgotten.'
Another tribute to Joe, from Kit Warren, said he was 'a mightly man with a heart of gold, a life dedicated to sea scouting in Wexford'.
Greystones and Malahide Sea Scouts sent their deepest sympathies and Breda Hayes wrote, 'so sorry to hear that news. A true gent'.
Joe's is the second major loss to the scouting movement in Wexford over the past few months, following the death of long-time scout leader Stevie Martin.
The son of the late Frank and Breda, Joe, from Bernadette Place, is the beloved brother of Richard, Francis, Patricia, Joan and Monica.
His passing is deeply regretted by his loving family, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, uncles, aunt, nephews, nieces, relatives, friends and the scouting movement throughout Ireland.