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Thursday 8 December 2016

Tears and songs as legend Foley makes saddest journey home

Members of Shannon Rugby Club and Munster fans watch Foley's hearse make its way past Thomond Park Photo: Mark Condren
Members of Shannon Rugby Club and Munster fans watch Foley's hearse make its way past Thomond Park Photo: Mark Condren

More than a thousand mourners filled the roadside outside Thomond Park in Limerick last night to say a tearful farewell to beloved Munster coach Anthony Foley as he arrived home at last.

His remains were flown back to Shannon Airport from Paris, landing at 6pm.

The Ryanair Corporate jet was offered at the disposal of his family, with the special call sign, FR-8 - to signify the number eight jersey he had worn in the back row for both Munster and Ireland.

Members of Shannon RFC - Foley's club - formed a guard of honour along the street, complete with schoolboy players in their colours of black and blue.

Applause

A deep silence fell as the hearse drew close to Thomond Park before the crowd broke into song, led by President Noel Healy, with a poignant rendition of There is an Isle, their club anthem.

Afterwards they sang Roll on the Shannon Forwards.

The hearse carrying the coffin, draped in the red Munster flag, drove slowly past as a minute of applause was observed for a man many had called a friend.

His heartbroken family travelled in the procession of cars behind, on the sad journey home to Killaloe.

Amongst those who turned out to welcome him home to Thomond Park was former Munster hooker, Marcus Horan.

A sign erected by Shannon RFC on the railings of Thomond Park, amid all the flags and banners, simply read: "Anthony Foley, The King of our Isle, May you rest in peace."

This was supposed to have been a quiet event for Shannon club members only - but word spread and people arrived in their droves to be part of a poignant moment.

Mothers stood with their young children and even after the remains had long left and the crowds drifted away, many still stood at the shrine to remember a man who had given them so many good days.

"When they sang There Is An Isle, we were all in floods," said Jean Wallace from Limerick.

"It was lovely to see how much he meant to so many people."

Jean and her parents, Peaches and Tony, had travelled to all the legendary Shannon four-in-arow All-Ireland League title wins in the late 90s, in which Anthony Foley had been such a key player.

"We have so many memories - so many happy memories," she said.

Appreciation

"It was nice to be able to show our appreciation and just say thank you to him for that," said Tony.

"It was very poignant and special," said Siobhan Keane of last night's turnout.

"We all wanted to honour him because he has given us so many great times over the years and he wouldn't have known it because he was just focused on the game."

Munster and Irish rugby hero Foley passed away in Paris ahead of his team's match against French side Racing 92 last Sunday.

A French coroner said on Tuesday that the 42-year-old died due to a heart condition which led to a build-up of fluid in his lungs. He will be laid to rest in Killaloe tomorrow.

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