HUNDREDS of mourners are expected to attend the funeral Mass this Thursday of a teenage sports star who died suddenly at the weekend.
James Fitzgerald, 16, of Ballincolly, Charleville, collapsed at a friend’s house in the town on Saturday at about 5.30pm.
It is understood that he had been training on gym equipment at the time. He was taken to Mallow General Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The popular young man was described as “a nice guy” and “a great role model” by friends and club mates this week.
His teammates from Charleville GAA Club as well as his school friends from Charleville CBS - where he was a fifth year student - will form a guard of honour at his funeral Mass which takes place at 2pm in Holy Cross Church in the town.
Hurling medals which James had won during the year which hadn’t yet been presented to him are expected to brought to the altar during the Mass.
Canon Sean Cotter who will be the principal celebrant at the funeral Mass said everybody in the town “sympathises greatly” with the Fitzgerald family at this very difficult time.
“They are in our prayers and we are trying to support them in every possible way we can,” said Canon Cotter, who is the Parish Priest in Charleville.
The family, he said, “are severely shocked” by the loss of James and are “trying to carry their burden as best as they can”.
James leaves behind a family already trying to rebuild their lives after two devastating blows last year.
In August of last year his brother Mike died tragically.
Two months later his eldest brother Dessie was playing with the Charleville hurling team in a game at Buttevant when he collided with another player. The incident damaged his spinal cord and left him temporarily paralysed.
In March, after leaving the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dessie married his long-time girlfriend Sarah McEvoy. He is understood to be making steady progress and now walks with the aid of crutches.
Pat McCarthy of Charleville GAA Club described the loss of James as “total devastation” for the entire community, and in particular his family.
“It’s a huge blow. He was very popular with his school mates and teammates. Obviously, they are fierce upset over his sudden passing,” said Mr McCarthy who is also a garda superintendent based in Mallow.
James, he said, was “a very promising and a very talented sportsman – an all-rounder”.
“Anything he put his hand to – he was good at. In the underage teams he played in, he was probably the backbone. Not alone that but he was very popular and very well liked. Anyone who he came in contact with, he created an immediate impact on them. He was just a nice guy.”
Mr McCarthy whose sons were friends with James, visited the Fitzgerald home on Tuesday night where James’ father, Des, proudly showed him a photo of his son in action on the hurling pitch (picture above).
James was a rising sports star who played hurling, Gaelic football and rugby.
“It is a desperate tragedy. For the family it is the third blow in 15 months – it’s terrible, just unbelievable,” added Mr McCarthy.
There were heartbreaking scenes at the family home at Ballincolly this Wednesday evening as hundreds of mourners paid their respects to the Fitzgerald family.
A number of messages of sympathy and tributes have been posted on social networking sites including James’ Facebook page, and Twitter by local sports clubs and distraught friends of the teenager.
Charleville GAA Club said they were “devastated” at the sudden passing of their young player who they described as a “model player” and someone “every young player looked up to”.
Charleville RFC described the young man as “a gifted athlete” and a “great role model”.
“You will be greatly missed by all at the club and also by anyone who was fortunate to call you a friend,” the club posted on the teenager’s Facebook page.
An autopsy has been carried out to establish what lead to the young man’s sudden death. There were no suspicious circumstances.
James is predeceased by his brother Mike and is survived by his loving parents Geraldine (nee Griffin) and Des, brothers Conor and Dessie, sister-in-law Sarah, aunts, uncles, relatives and friends.
He will be buried in the local cemetery in Charleville following the funeral Mass.