Martin Kiely – Liam Kennedy was unsung GAA hero in Limerick

Martin Kiely – Liam Kennedy was unsung GAA hero in Limerick

FOR just a brief moment it felt like we were sitting in Croke Park on All Ireland final day. The stadium was packed in the anticipation of a great game.

The sun was shining and the sky blue of Na Piarsaigh was glittering in its rays. It was on reflection though a more somber occasion.

They had travelled far and wide to Christ the King Church in Caherdavin to pay respects to Liam Kennedy. Thousands attended his funeral and it was a measure of the respect so many people had for him and the Kennedy family.

The Northside of Limerick City came to a stand still as the community honoured a man that had given so much to his club Na Piarsaigh and Ardscoil Ris.

In so many ways this was a country funeral in the city, the values and traditions of rural Ireland were displayed with great dignity.

For over thirty years Liam Kennedy had played his part in Na Piarsaigh GAA club. He was proud of what the club had achieved and also proud that his own sons Darragh and Padraigh were very much part of the club.

Liam had many qualities, he could be direct, he could be sharp, he could be funny but most of all he was an honest honourable man that played his part in life’s journey.

At times of great sadness GAA clubs know how to wrap a community together and this was very much the case for Liam Kennedy's family. His work for the club saw so many play a role and Timmy O’Connor led a team that can be very proud of their labours.

Liam Kennedy would have done this many times before but now sadly and untimely it was the turn of others to do it for him. While Limerick was close to his heart he didn’t hide behind the blue and gold of Tipperary.

Born in Cloughjordan in 1954 his love of his native place never left him. He was well at home in Na Piarsaigh as men such as the late Paddy Verdon and Dan Hickey also kept the blue and gold flag flying.

Hurling was the music that Liam Kennedy danced to. He loved talking about it and he had a great knowledge of it. He put that to good use in Ardscoil Ris and that can’t have been easy in a school that had the oval ball at its core.

He was the man that dug the foundation and put massive work into promoting hurling. His work saw the school develop and grow in hurling.

He played a key part in bringing young players through and from here they would go on to win and dominate the Harty Cup for some years. For that alone Liam Kennedy will be remembered for the legacy he left.

Timmy O’Connor has many great memories of Liam and the work that he did for both club and school.

“He was the unsung hero of our club and his school. He was involved as manager from underage and also at senior level. It was a special moment for him when his son Padraigh was in goal for our All Ireland club success.”

According to O’Connor Liam Kennedy played a key role in driving and launching Ardscoil as a major power in colleges hurling.

“He started the ball rolling in Ardscoil and at the time it wasn’t popular to be promoting hurling, but he stuck with it. In my eyes he was a pioneer. He never sought gratitude or publicity, he was happy to stay in the back round.”

It was a very difficult week for Liam’s wife Ann, she lost her sister Gerldine (White) the day before Liam passed away. A great GAA follower she showed amazing strength to cope with the challenges that came to her door.

She and her family must have found great comfort in the huge numbers that attended the funeral.

From Caherdavin cross to the church it was a poignant scene. Hundreds followed Liam on his final journey. The church was overflowing into the grounds.

The brilliantly well coached Ardscoil Ris choir made a major contribution to an occasion that was blessed with so much serenity.

Fr Tom Carroll led the celebration of Mass. As a former mentor and coach with Na Piarsaigh, he had the inside track. He knew the man, he knew his deeds but most of all he blended words that made it a very special occasion.

Liam Kennedy’s love of hurling started with his club Kilruane MacDonaghs in North Tipperary. As Darragh told us in his address he took great pride in that and loved to return to his native place.

As I waited in the long queue to pay my respects at Griffins a man of advanced years was rich in his praise of the Kennedys.

“I knew all belong to them. They were solid people and great workers. Liam was a great man that never forgot where he came from.”

Liam Kennedy led a simple life, it revolved around his family, Na Piarsaigh, Ardscoil, horse racing and the game of cards. All of these passions found there way into the Mass.

Many gifts were brought to the altar and it was fitting that his life long friend Bill Burke was part of the celebration. A book, a hurling ball, a deck of cards, a family picture were the symbols that mirrored his life.

It can’t have been easy for Darragh to address such a huge crowd, but his father would have been very proud of him. He gave us great insight into his father and the values he instilled in them as young boys.

He spoke of his courage and bravery and the challenges that the last few weeks had presented to them as a family, “Dad showed great courage, strength and dignity. He played a great game but the referee blew up early.”

The final part in the Mass saw Tipperary County Secretary Tim Floyd sing, “Slievenamon”. This powerful ballad brought an end to the celebration of Liam Kennedys life.

A life that saw him give much to many as teacher, mentor and coach. The impact that people like Liam Kennedy make in the lives of young people can never be taken for granted.

The GAA is blessed to have such people. It’s important that the contribution that people like Liam Kennedy undertake is valued and understood in both schools and clubs.

To his wife Ann, his children Darragh, Deirdre, Padraigh and extended family I offer my sincere sympathy. May Liam rest in peace.