THERE is sadness in the city’s military community after two soldiers, who were best friends for over 30 years died within hours of each other.
Prospect man Noel Meade, 50, died on Saturday, just weeks after being diagnosed with cancer. His friend Tommy Carroll, also 50, of Mulgrave Street, died in the early hours of Sunday, after a commemoration of Noel’s life.
Tommy was laid to rest with military honours this Wednesday night, and Noel’s funeral takes place this Thursday morning.
The tragedy has rocked the close-knit military fraternity in Limerick, and the two men’s families are still coming to terms with the loss of their loved ones.
Both men joined the army at 18, and had served side-by-side for some 32 years: father-of-four Tommy had served in the Lebanon on four occasions.
His youngest daughter Tanya, 27, said they had the perfect father-daughter relationship.
“He was a father any daughter could only dream of having: he never had an argument with me. He just made you feel grown up. He was an inspiration,” she said.
Married since the age of 18 - the year he joined the army - to Mary, Richard was a devout Catholic.
“He would go to Mass every Sunday. He would go on holidays with my mother, and every Sunday morning, he would get up and go to church. He used to say that it didn’t matter if it was in Spanish, so long as he went,” she recalled.
She said Mary constantly talks about Tommy: “It was always Tommy this, and Tommy that: it was always ‘my Tommy”.
Away from work, Tommy enjoyed playing soccer, as well as for Thomond, his club. He used to always make sure he was up to speed with the goings on at the northside club.
Just before his death, he signed up for two more years of service in the military.
Describing her father as “hard working, honest, generous and dedicated to his job”, Tanya said many young recruits in the army loved Tommy because he was able to put them at their ease through his joking.
His cousin Paul Higgins, a former military man, said a group of recruits formed a very close-knit group.
“There was a group of them up there who joined at the same time. They would all be around 30 years in the army. They joined together, trained together, and went to the Lebanon together,” he said.
Noel’s sister Grace Judd said Tommy brought her brother out of his shell somewhat.
“He and Tommy had great times in the barracks. They used to really enjoy a laugh and a joke. I think Tommy would have been the more extrovert of the two though.”
Noel used to cycle everywhere - be it to work, Cratloe, or all the way to Kilkee.
A massive sports fan - with a particular love for Young Munster, Limerick’s county teams and Manchester United - Grace joked that he could have three televisions on at once.
“He could be watching three different marches at the same time, because he wanted to know all the scores. He went everywhere: he went to Dublin to watch Ireland, he used to get the boat to watch Munster play overseas.
“When he was stationed in Cork, he used to make sure he was back in time to watch Young Munster play,” she added.
When Noel celebrated his 50th birthday in December, this was proof to Grace as to her brother’s popularity.
“He had so many visitors: not just from army colleagues, but also friends. He was very likeable. He was very uncomplicated, very even, and very unflappable.”
She recalled the positive effect Noel had on her own children, encouraging them to remain active in sport.