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Farewell to a true ‘gentleman’

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A FINAL JOURNEY With his coffin draped in the colours of Ballinrobe GAA club, and flanked by members of the club and staff from Ballinrobe Racecourse, the funeral cortege of Billy Horan makes its way to the local cemetery last Friday.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Long-time Mayo News correspondent, Billy Horan, passed away last week at the age of 89

Mike Finnerty

“WE gather around to say farewell and thanks to a gentleman in the purest of its form.
“He gave a lot to his work, his family, this town and the GAA. And that’s why so many mourn his passing. He was honest, spiritual, sincere, loyal, special.”
These were the words of Fr Michael Gormally, Parish Priest of Ballinrobe, at the start of last Friday’s funeral Mass for the late Billy Horan, who was described by Fr Gormally as ‘an extraordinary teacher, man, husband, father, brother, uncle, grandfather, teacher, work colleague, friend and neighbour’.
Billy (89) passed away suddenly at Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar last Tuesday.
His life was celebrated at St Mary’s Church last Friday as his decades of loyal service to the teaching profession, local journalism, GAA volunteerism and Ballinrobe Racecourse were recalled.
But Billy’s devotion to his family was also singled out for special mention by Fr Gormally, who said: “Everything he did and everything he achieved revolved around his family.”
“I had the privilege of working with Billy [at Ballinrobe Community School] for seven years, and I learnt more from him in seven years than I did in my time in Maynooth. He had a lovely way about him,” Fr Gormally told the large congregation.
“He was a man who never lost the cool, a man who never spoke ill of anybody, a man who understood youth. A man who started class every day with a prayer and whose goal as a teacher was, not so much what he imparted to the students, but it was the little nuggets that he’d give them about life.
“A man you could rely on and depend on for good, sound, honest, truthful information or advice.
“A wonderful man. It was a privilege, my privilege, to have worked with him for seven wonderful years.
“So today we say Billy, thanks for that.”
A native of Partry, but resident in Ballinrobe for most of his adult life, Billy Horan was well-known for his decades of teaching (English and History) at the local CBS and, in later years, Ballinrobe Community School.
“He was made for secondary school teaching and he was good at it,” said Fr Gormally.
“He loved seeing young minds develop and discovering new things every day. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than seeing his students light up when something new was on the menu.
“He loved seeing them finish school, going on to university, and making something of their lives.
“So many of them did, and so many of them came back, year after year, and thanked him for sharing his knowledge, for his expertise.”
Among the gifts brought to the altar to reflect Billy Horan’s full life were a Gaelic football, a copy of Ballinrobe Racecourse’s centenary year book, a number of local newspapers that he contributed to for 70 years, and an award he had received recently in recognition of his contribution to Ballinrobe GAA club.
Billy’s daughter, Sara, read ‘I Am Free’ by Shannon Lee Moseley, while another of his daughters, Liz, read a verse from ‘Mise Rafteirí an File’ which was written by one of Billy’s favourite poets, Antoine Ó Raifteirí.
Billy’s oldest son, Michael, later delivered a wonderful eulogy about his father’s life and legacy.
“Dad passed away peacefully, with very little fuss, in a very dignified way. And so in death he remained true to how he loved his life,” he began.
“We will never forget the early mornings in the study, writing your notes for the paper as you deciphered the scribbled notes from the wet and windy pitchsides. The Sunday afternoon pilgrimages to the playing fields of South Mayo.
“The Hollymount ampitheatre and the like were the real Croke Parks of his imagination.
“We were blessed to have him as our father,” he added.
“Dad sought to be a positive influence wherever we could, be it in the classroom or meeting room.
“He was calmness personified, reflective, constructive, looking for a way forward.
“He was a newspaper man to his fingertips. On Monday last he filed his last weekly column, though not feeling great, and over the next 24 hours he slipped quietly away from us.
“He wouldn’t let it be said that he missed his final newspaper deadline.”
Michael also referenced his late father’s love for the town where he made his home.
“I think one his legacies to Ballinrobe is that he inspired people to make the place better for those who follow. It is so clear from the many messages we received over the last few days that he inspired so many people as a teacher and as a journalist.
“What greater accolade to be bestowed.
“He loved Ballinrobe and all that he wished for was that it would be a vibrant and inclusive community.”
Michael also acknowledged that his father’s reputation as ‘a gentleman’ and experiencing the ‘sheer magnitude’ of the esteem in which he was held, had been ‘astonishing and comforting’ for the whole family in the days after his passing.
“One word has shone through from all and sundry over the last few days in terms of what Billy Horan meant to people. That he was ‘a gentleman’. It just kept being said and written.
“I know I’m biased when I say it, but it’s 100% correct. That is what he was.
“He actually had it all in terms of charm, wit, intellect and modesty.
“So it’s time to say our final goodbyes to a person who was much-loved and greatly admired.
“Dad, you played the full match, the whistle has blown, and there’s no disputing the result, you were the man of the match.”
Billy Horan’s remains were then brought to the new graveyard where he was laid to rest alongside his late wife, Ina.
Billy was also predeceased by his brothers Aidan (New Jersey), Frank (Luton) and Con (Limerick). He will be sadly missed by his sons, Michael (Dublin), Liam (Ballinrobe) and Maurice (Tralee), daughters, Liz Bree (Westport) and Sara (Ballinrobe), son-in-law, Paul, daughters-in-law, Teresa, Noreen and Bríd, adoring grandchildren, Dara (Westport and Boston), Patrick and Fiona (Westport), Sinead, Michelle and Emma (Dublin), Ina, Kimberley, Jean and Murray (Tralee), sisters, Maura Roche (Moate) and Carmel Biggins (Ballinrobe), sisters-in-law, brother-in-law, nephews, nieces, loyal neighbours and a wide and cherished circle of friends.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.