herald

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Father's tribute as river-victim soccer fan is laid to rest

"I'VE never met such sadness in my life." These were the simple words of a father struggling to cope with the loss of his son.

United in grief, a devastated community paid tribute to Irish soccer fan, James Nolan.

Men, women and children openly wept as the town of Blessington, Co Wicklow, remembered a young man whose life was cut tragically short. But for everybody, the sadness of the occasion proved too great when James's father Jimmy addressed the 2,000-strong congregation at his removal last night.

It was the moment when bravery and emotion collided -- and it produced the most heartrending scenes imaginable. Choking back tears, Jimmy gripped the altar for strength as he said: "I've never met such sadness in my life. I never want be to be associated with this sadness again.

"What I'm asking everyone to do next week is to have a bit of slagging. A bit of joking. He [James] would love us to have a bit of banter."

As he sat down, consoled by his wife Essie, Jimmy continued to cry uncontrollably -- as did so many around him.

Earlier, friends, family and neighbours stood in silence as the hearse carrying James's body made its procession through the streets.

For the small community of Blessington, the 21-year-old's death was like losing one of their own. Family members embraced -- struggling to accept that they had to say farewell to a young man who was in the prime of his life.

James's funeral Mass was due to take place at the Church of Our Lady in Blessington today.

Gesture

The Removal Mass took place seven days after James's lifeless body was pulled from the river Brda in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz. The college student had gone missing three days earlier while enjoying what was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime to Euro 2012.

It was the trip every 21-year old dreams of -- to head over to a major championship to watch the 'boys in green'. James had become separated from his six pals. He was found drowned three days later. Polish police say no foul play was suspected.

Irish soccer captain Robbie Keane made an extraordinary gesture to the young man during his club LA Galaxy's match against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.

The 31-year-old striker unveiled a jersey with James's name on it -- just seconds after scoring a goal. James's family described the gesture as "amazing".

Ireland goalkeeper Shay Given was among those scheduled to attend this morning's Funeral Mass.

Inside the Church Of Our Lady, a photograph of the young barman with a beaming smile sat neatly in front of the altar.

A wreath with the word 'Jam' -- James's nickname -- stood on the floor beside it.

During the ceremony, FAI President John Delaney presented the family with an Irish jersey signed by Ireland midfielder Stephen Hunt.

hnews@herald.ie

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