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Shock at sudden passing of Westport school principal John Meaney

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EDUCATOR The late John Meaney had worked at the Quay NS for 21 years.

Huge crowds attend funeral of well-known community leader

Áine Ryan

IT was serendipitous and symbolic of the wonderful warmth of their future relationship that the late John Meaney met his wife-to-be, Siobhán Nestor, in the steam-room of Hotel Westport. Of course, John always denied it but would have enjoyed the fact that his heartbroken widow put it firmly on the record during her moving eulogy of him at his Requiem Mass in St Mary’s Church, Westport, yesterday (Monday). The sudden death of one of Westport’s proudest citizens, Fianna Fáil stalwart and longtime Principal of St Colmcille’s School, the Quay, last Thursday morning at his home has left the community of the west Mayo town and its environs reeling and stunned in disbelief.
This was clear from the massive crowd who filled the church and spilled out on to the South Mall an hour before his Mass had even started at 12.30pm yesterday. The significance of his contribution to primary school education and various sporting groups was very visible through the numbers of schoolchildren in attendance with his eldest son, Conor’s teams from Westport United and GAA proudly wearing the red and blue of their respective clubs. The moving music and hymns – choral and instrumental – wafted down from the gallery and along through the nave reaching into its cruciform arms as friends cried quietly.
Welcoming a broad litany of mourners, Fr Charlie McDonnell observed that the congregation had gathered in ‘sadness, shock and disbelief’ as symbols of his life were brought to the altar. They included a most treasured picture of Croagh Patrick framing a group of planes in Westport for the airshow during the 250th celebrations last year; a photograph of the family, John, Siobhán, Conor, Aoife, Anna and Seánie representing his deep love for them; a life jacket symbolising his love of sailing and the sea; a Quay School tracksuit illustrating his dedication to teaching; a tennis racquet indicating his love of sport and, finally, a book showing his love of learning and reading.  

Love of place
THERE were many threads to unravelling the story of John Meaney, Fr Charlie said opening his homily. There was his huge love of place; his childlike excitement; deep generosity and enthusiasm. A quintessential community member, he was a serious man too; serious about his family, his school. John was very close to his two siblings too, Mary and Jim; the fact he phoned them every day was testament to this. There was ‘a tremendous pastoral side to John too, he was always plotting and planning’ and is probably already up in heaven ‘asking who does he go to for grants for more rooms’.
“I remember when I moved to Westport first and one day while walking along the street  I thought I was being attacked by the mafia when a blue Mondeo pulled up beside me and I was called into the car.”
Fortunately, it was just John Meaney welcoming him to Westport and, as it happened, the  beginning of a friendship that would lead to lots of Whatsapp messages – messages that invariably left a smile on his face and on those of the other recipients. He praised the solidarity and support of all the schools and wider community after the news broke of his sudden death last Thursday.  
Fr Charlie urged the congregation and community ‘trying to come to terms with the shock’ to embrace the ‘ability to put out the hand but also to receive it and, moreover, to ‘celebrate the best of the late John Meaney and each other’.
In so many ways, the simplicity of one Prayer of the Faithful, read by Siobhán’s nephew, said it all: “We pray for Uncle John, we will miss him.”
After hundreds of members of the congregation received communion, it was Siobhán’s turn to talk about her beloved husband. Supported by her sister Mary, her eloquence confirmed a comment by a friend after she first met John: “You have met your match.” She talked of John’s happy disposition; his unwavering love for Westport. No matter where they went on holidays with the children, he compared the place to Westport, reminded her of how lucky she was to have married a man from ‘The Best Place to Live in Ireland’.
John loved Conor, Aoife, Anna and Seánie ‘with every fibre of his being’, she said. He was a romantic husband who turned up with flowers on occasions; his pride in his school where he worked for 21 years was effectively ‘his life’s work’.
“John loved the cut-throat of politics and if I had a euro for every time he told me Fine Gael was finished!” she said.  
Thanking everyone – neighbours, family and friends, church representatives, doctors and the gardaí – Siobhán said her daughter Anna had reminded her of a special song by Ellie Goulding that resonated for the family.  
“How long will I love you/ As long as stars are above you/ And longer if I can/ How long will I need you/ As long as the seasons need to/ Follow their plan.”

Solemn service
The Requiem Mass was concelebrated by chief celebrant, Father Charlie McDonnell with Fathers Mícheál Mac Gréil, John Kenny, Denis Carney, Paddy Gill, Patrick Burke, Jim Walsh, Malachy Smyth, Frank Nally and Reverend Val Rodgers.
He is mourned by his loving wife Siobhán (Nestor), adored dad of Conor, Aoife, Anna and Seánie; brother Jim and wife Jackie, sister Mary; parents-in-law Pat and Anne Nestor, brothers-in-law Tom, Pat and Michael, sisters-in-law Mary and Eimear; nieces, nephew, relatives, neighbours, friends, staff and pupils of St Colmcille’s National School, The Quay, Westport.
Poignantly, his much-loved late mother, Margaret Meaney’s obituary appeared in last week’s edition of The Mayo News.
The Quay school’s choir sang throughout the service, supported by instrumentalists Des Cafferkey, Fiona Kennedy and Jenny Kilroy. Burial was in Aughavale Cemetery. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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