The death of former Munster Head Coach, Anthony Foley brought his family to “their knees and many, many others also”.
That’s according to his widow, Olive who penned a heart-rendering tribute to coincide with the anniversary of his unexpected death in a Paris hotel before Munster’s Pro 12 clash with Racing Metroin October 2016.
The death of the 42 year-old father-of-two sparked a global outpouring of grief as tens of thousands of people wrote to the family to share their own personal memories and express their sympathy.
A few weeks after his death, the #8Masses4No8 campaign, the “Axel Foley Memorial” appeal, set up by his son, Tony, secured worldwide support exceeding the capacity of his beloved Thomond Park in Limerick.
Olive stated: “It goes without saying that the past year was one that no preparation could help with. Losing Anthony in any circumstances, not least one with no forewarning brought us as a family to our knees and many, many others also.
She said their lives changed forever when they were given the “dreadful news that Anthony had passed”.
“The 12 months since have been about trying to take in what has happened, struggling a lot of the time to actually believe it has happened, desperately missing Anthony and trying to adapt to this new order without him here.
“We are not the only ones, of course, to have travelled this journey. Sudden death is something that has come to many, many doors. Many also have travelled this particular journey with us; people – teammates, friends outside rugby, etc, who have also mourned Anthony’s death terribly.
“Crucially, however, we’ve also had so many special companions who have helped us to travel this journey over the past 12 months. People who’ve extended their hand and held ours, from the very moment they heard the news, right to this day,” she stated.
Thanking everyone who has helped the family over the last 12 months, she recalled it was a huge mix of people; from the very close to distant strangers, all showing “incredible humanity, caring and compassion in coming to our side”.
She paid tribute to their immediate families and dear friends who came running the very moment word reached them, “picked us up, propped us up, walked us through those days, weeks and months, stayed with us, day in and day out”.
“I think very much also of the rugby brethren; Anthony’s dear friends, teammates, players and opponents from that world. His club, province, nation, the Lions; other clubs, provinces and nations. I think of that unforgettable moment outside Thomond Park, the proudest rendition of ‘There is an Isle’ and the sustained applause as Anthony was driven by.
“This sporting community flocked from the four corners of the country and from across the world to bid Anthony farewell and to show their care, offer their support. And they continue to offer it.
“There’s our amazing local community, who rolled out a carpet of warmth and care for Anthony’s final return. A community standing side by side, almost taking the baton from Thomond and bringing Anthony home. Side by side from the moment we turned into the town with him for that last time. We’ll never come back home so laden with sadness but we will never again be lifted as we were by the sight of the hundreds who lined, in silence, the road into Killaloe. Candles in their hands and more at the roadside. It was a special, serene moment, the softest but loudest of statements that you were there even more in this moment than you were in his triumphs.
“It was a terribly difficult time in our lives but through the gloom we could see all of you; family friends, sporting colleagues, community; standing shoulder to shoulder, carrying your own pain but also willing to carry ours.
“At the very worst time in life, we saw the very best of others. That, we will never forget and we hope to be able to one day return the generosity,” she stated.
She recalled several people and organisations went beyond the call of duty to lighten the practical load from the family and allow them to spend those precious few days saying their goodbyes.
Among that group was the Irish Embassy, the undertakers, Ryanair and Shannon Airport, all who went the extra mile in helping us get Anthony home from France. There was An Garda Siochana, not least for their help on the ground in preparing Killaloe for the influx of such numbers. There was Bus Éireann and local private operators for providing a park-and-ride system for the days of Anthony’s funeral.
St Flannan’s Parish/Church in Killaloe provided incredible facilitating such volumes of crowds and for the respect and serenity they afforded the family.
This included the clergy: Fr. Pat Malone, their close family friend, for the softest and kindest hand as chief celebrant; to Fr James Grace, PP, Killaloe and the many others who joined them on the alter to make for a fitting farewell to Anthony.
Her praise extended to the choirs for their beautiful music and hymns, the many pall bearers for carrying Anthony on his last steps and gravediggers for preparing his resting place.
She thanked all the sporting clubs of the town, the scouts, civil defence, local landowners for providing their lands for parking. She said restaurants, hotels, public houses across Killaloe and Ballina all deserve a collective mention for their hospitality and making everyone so welcome.