GUARD OF HONOUR Staff of The Mayo News along with members of Westport Utd FC, Mayo County Council and the Westport Chamber of Commerce form a guard of honour as the remains of Neill O’Neill arrived at St Mary’s Church, Westport, for his funeral Mass on Friday morning last. Pic: Conor McKeown
WESTPORT came to an absolute standstill on Friday morning for one of the biggest funerals the town has ever seen.
Most of the town and the wider Westport area are still coming to terms with the news that Neill O’Neill, the 36-year-old Managing Editor of The Mayo News, is no longer with us, after taking ill and passing away at his home on Tuesday morning, October 10. A post-mortem at Mayo General Hospital on Tuesday afternoon revealed that Neill had suffered a brain haemorrhage.
As news of Neill’s sudden passing spread throughout the county on Tuesday morning, there was genuine shock and sorrow that someone so young and so full of life could be taken at such a young age.
Neill was known throughout the country in his role as Managing Editor of The Mayo News, a role he had filled with such great success over the last six years. He was also known in the business community throughout the county through his role as the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Westport since 2013, and his voluntary role in a whole host of other community and sporting organisations.
Neill is survived by his loving partner Emma Joyce, his parents Colam and Mary, brothers Conor and Finbar, sisters Aoife and Orla, nieces Síofra, Alannah, Daria, Sarah and Kelly, nephews Thomas, Ruairí, Cian and Donagh, brother-in-law Tom, sisters-in-law Aisling and Gemma, Emma’s parents Tom and Patricia Joyce, aunts, uncles extended family, friends and community.
Thousands of people turned up at the home he shared with Emma at Rosbeg in Westport before his removal to St Mary’s Church in Westport on Friday morning for his funeral Mass.
Symbols of his life
At the beginning of Neill’s funeral Mass, symbols of his life were brought to the altar including a copy of The Mayo News, his guitar, a squash racket, a Westport Utd jersey, a landscape photograph and his Chamber of Commerce chain of office.
In his homily, Fr Charlie McDonnell spoke of the absolute shock that rippled across the town of Westport on Tuesday morning when news of Neill’s death broke.
Fr Charlie said he had seen a copy of The Mayo News from September 12 lying on a coffee table at Neill’s house when he went to visit Emma, and the headline was ‘Beyond Words’. He said ‘how apt that headline was’ for what was unfolding. Neill’s death just didn’t make sense to anyone.
“None of us want to be here today because none of us should be here. Neill is gone before his time. And so much of what he had to do is left unfinished.”
President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp Lieutenant Commander Patricia Butler and Fr Charlie said this was ‘very appropriate’ because Neill was ‘a Covie, a real Covie, a son of Westport.’
“I have no doubt that if Neill O’Neill got his chance he would have grown into the father of Westport too, because all of the signs of that were there. The way he lifted up and supported his good friends, always on hand with advice, he was wise beyond his years.”
Fr Charlie went on to say that Neill was so much a part of Westport, in so many different ways.
“As a journalist, Neill didn’t sit on the fence... He was active, he was alive, he was involved. The Chamber of Commerce was his baby. He was at the heart most recently of the Westport 250 celebrations, of the recent Street Festival, of the Leeson Enterprise Centre.”
Fr Charlie also mentioned how much Neill had missed his mentor Seán Staunton, who passed away three years ago, as he learned so much from him.
“Westport can’t forget, and won’t forget Neill O’Neill. There is a responsibility on us to take up his mantle, to emulate him by getting involved, like so many people have done over the last few days. Nobody had to be asked over the last few days to do anything, the whole community felt they had to do something. He was a great guy, and he was growing and developing, becoming something great.”
Three moving and heartfelt eulogies were delivered at the end of the Mass, the first by Sports Editor of The Mayo News, Mike Finnerty on behalf of his colleagues. (See the full text of Mike’s Eulogy on Sport, page 24).
Neill’s brother Finbar spoke of how his younger brother had touched so many hearts and lives in his short time.
“You would need to travel many miles from Westport and Mayo to find someone who did not know him or know of him. He was unique, a person with a perfect blend of all that is good about humanity: a caring partner, loving son and brother, loyal friend, talented writer, proud community activist, emotionally intelligent leader, amateur photographer, immutable musician, occasional sportsman, and a full-time messer. Above all he was blessed with a kind heart, a strong mind, and a nature that is just impossible to describe in words. He never stopped for a minute to contemplate the impact his energy and enthusiasm for life had on the world around him. That he was all these things at the same time and to everyone is, in itself, some achievement. But to those who knew him that was just the normal Neill.”
Colam O’Neill, Neill’s father, finished off the eulogies with an anecdote referring to all the great stories he had heard about Neill prior to the Funeral Mass.
“I was just thinking there a few minutes ago if I could take Neill on one last trip, I’d bring him out to Bertra. I’d say to him ‘take off your shoes and socks and let’s see you walk over the water to Clare Island, because the only thing I haven’t heard this week is that he could walk on water!”
Colam went on to say that Neill ‘was a great young lad’.
“I was very proud of him. But probably [I was most proud of] the way he loved two ladies: My wife Mary and his partner Emma. You were so good. Thank you very much.
“You know, a lot has been said about what Neill did, and now he is going on his final trip. I thought of a poem I read forty, fifty years ago when I was in school and there was one verse of it that I would like to quote as Neill is brought out to Aughavale (cemetery). The poem was written by an English poet called Thomas Gray, ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’. The four lines I’d like to quote reminds us all what life is all about, you live and then you die.
Thomas Gray wrote in 1751:
Beneath those rugged elms, that yew tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mould’ring heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.
After his Funeral Mass, Neill’s remains were carried shoulder-high up Bridge Street and Shop Street by close friends, many of whom had planned to be at the stag of Kevin ‘Kipper’ Joyce, with Neill, in Edinburgh that very morning.
All of the businesses on the two streets closed up and staff stood outside each premises to pay their respects. Neill was buried in Aughavale Cemetery.
May he rest in peace.