HE was rugby’s first global superstar and shone a light over Limerick when he visited in November 2008.
Jonah Lomu, who died suddenly on Wednesday after battling a rare kidney condition for almost a decade, was remembered in Limerick following his passing.
The New Zealand winger, who scored 37 international tries and is considered to have ushered in the era of professionalism in rugby, was the special guest at the switching on of the Christmas lights in the city on Monday, November 17, 2008 - just 24 hours before Munster faced his beloved All Blacks in a newly minted Thomond Park the following evening.
John Gilligan was mayor at the time and remembered Lomu as “a huge man but a man of huge humility”.
“He was very honest, down to earth, had no pretensions about him, he didn’t go along with the superstar tag - in fact he seemed quite shy in many respects. He was very willing to speak to everybody and there were children there who still have cherished photographs of him,” said Cllr Gilligan.
“He was a wonderful player and a wonderful person and he loved the idea of coming to Limerick and the legend which is Thomond Park and he was very much part of it. The world is a sadder place for his passing. To think he died at 40 years of age is indeed sad, but I must say that one of my highlights of my tenure as mayor of Limerick city was meeting the fabulous Jonah Lomu,” he added.
The former mayor’s grandniece Jessica and his grandnephew Joe presented the rugby star with a Munster jersey. He would also unceremoniously take off his commemorative Munster/New Zealand jersey in the pouring rain and hand it to then six-year-old Ben O’Shaughnessy from Rathbane, making the youngster’s day in the process.
“Not only did he reach the very pinnacle of his sport but he had to fight to do that as well,” then Mayor Gilligan said in 2008, “and that’s what makes someone truly, truly great. We are so proud to have you here.”
Those who met Lomu, including Laura Ryan, former Limerick Coordination Officer and now communications executive with the council, were impressed by his demeanour. Laura described him as “a true legend and gentleman” after hearing of his passing.
Lomu returned to Limerick five years later, again in November, to speak at An Audience With style event in Thomond Park, when he spoke movingly and candidly about his personal life and health as well as career.
Limerick City and County Council marked the rugby legend’s death by hoisting a New Zealand flag at its Dooradoyle offices “in memory of Jonah Lomu who turned on #Limerick’s Xmas lights in 2008”, it tweeted.