MID West hurling star Dillon Quirke died last Friday “doing what he loved”, in the Premier County’s home of hurling, his funeral mass heard yesterday.
Mr Quirke, 24, who made his debut for Tipperary against Limerick in 2020, died after he collapsed while captaining Clonoulty Rossmore against Kilruane MacDonaghs, during a county senior hurling championship match at Semple Stadium in Thurles last Friday.
The idyllic rural village of Clonoulty came to a standstill as the local hurling legend’s remains were first driven by hearse from his home to his local GAA pitch, before his coffin was shouldered almost 2km to St John the Baptist Church, as it passed hundreds of silent standing mourners on the way.
Members of the Tipperary County Board, along with President of the GAA Larry McCarthy, led the cortège to the church where local hurling and camogie players as well as Mr Quirke’s Tipperary teammates, performed guards of honour.
In a loving tribute to his only son, Mr Quirke’s heartbroken father Dan Quirke, who like Dillon is a former Tipperary U-21 All Ireland winner, said: “Dillon was a beautiful son, my best friend, our hero. He came into this world a fighter, born premature following a road accident, and he left it a champion and a true legend.”
Mr Quirke’s sister Shannon read a poem which championed her brother’s hurling skills and remembered him as a “fighter in the skies” defender, who was also “deadly in attack”.
Mr Quirke’s trademark red helmet and his Tipperary and club jerseys were presented at the altar as symbols of his sporting life.
In a tribute to his nephew, Clonoulty Rossmore chairman Andrew Fryday told mourners: “Dillon was going so well in that match last Friday night, he was a leading player, a leading player, leading from the front, showing his ability and his skills”.
Becoming emotional, Mr Fryday added: “Then a nightmare struck and we all know what happened. It was a disaster for us to see him leave Semple stadium in the way he left, but while he was in there, lads, he left it the way he wanted to leave it – he left it as the shining star that he was.”
Mr Fryday thanked the wider “GAA family”, their neighbours and friends, and their hurling rivals Kilruane MacDonaghs, for their “dignity and support” since last Friday night.
“It hasn’t been easy since then, and I suppose if the truth be known, we are all one big happy family in the GAA, yes we go out (on the pitch) on days and cut each other asunder, but when it comes to it all and the chips are down, we are all behind each other lads and we stand up together and we have seen that here massively, so thank you.”
Mr Friday also paid special thanks to last Friday’s match referee Michael Kennedy; the “magnificent staff at Semple stadium”; their club’s team physio Ciara Gleeson, HSE paramedics, the Order of Malta, gardaí, and staff at Clonmel Hospital, who all tried valiantly to save Mr Quirke.
Mr Fryday said Dillon was destined for hurling greatness, and noted a long list of his nephew’s hurling achievements.
“Last Friday evening, Dillon made a triumphant exit from his life, doing what he loved, with his teammates, and the great friends he loved so much, and in front of the people he cherished most – his family.”
“He was such a lovely, lovely fella, a perfect gentleman, I suppose he was what any mother or father would like to have had as a son, and if you go though his hurling career, he is probably what any manager or any trainer of a team would like to have as a leader and as an inspiration to others around him.”
“What an inspiring hero he was to us, both on and off the field. Dillon, until we meet again, go gently into the good night and shine brightly.”
Fr Tom Hearne, PP, Clonoulty Rossmore, said the parish had been “stunned” by Mr Quirke’s death, who he said had achieved “perfection in so short a time”.
Fr Tom Hearne said Mr Quirke died “playing his beloved game of hurling”.
He welcomed management from Semple stadium, the Munster Council, the Gaelic Players Association, the 2022 Senior Tipperary hurling panel as well as members of the 2018 All-Ireland U-21 Tipperary panel and its backroom team, but, he said, “the warmest welcome has to go to Dillon’s family”.
Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Kevin Riley, who could not attend the mass, stated in a letter read out by Fr Hearne that Mr Quirke’s death was “a cruel blow to his family, friends, teammates and the entire GAA family”.
Fr Hearne told mourners that, since news broke of Mr Quirke’s sudden and untimely death last Friday night, “it really feels that our parish community here has almost become frozen in time”.
“There has been such a huge outpouring of sadness and grief, not just here in our local community, but also in our surrounding parishes, throughout the country, and even further-afield.”
“People are really stunned and we are all finding it really difficult to believe that this has really happened.”
“On Saturday evening when we gathered in the local GAA grounds, where we could say was a second home for Dillon, as we gathered for that vigil, the silence was almost deafening, there wasn’t a sound with such a huge crowd of people gathered, people were there together sharing their pain and their loss.”
“But as well as that, they were sharing their time, and their sympathy, and their care, and that sadness and shock and sense of numbness continues today as we gather here in this church, to celebrate Dillon’s funeral mass, in his home parish – a parish he was proud to represent so many times.”
“We have come here to celebrate his life, and to mourn a great loss, and over the last few days we have seen thousands of people passing through the Quirke family home, and when you read through the condolences it leaves us in no doubt that our parish, and Dillon’s teammates, and those in his club, and his colleagues, have lost a very valued and special friend.”
Mourners thronged inside St John the Baptist Church while hundreds more, who were accommodated on seats laid out on the grounds of the church, and more who stood around the church and on the main thoroughfare of the village, listened on loud speakers and were offered bottles of water to offset heatwave temperatures.
Fr Hearne told them: “Life is fragile, life is definitely precious, it is something that we should value, we really should live it to the full, just as Dillon did.”
“He had his sporting life, he had his family, and he had many friends, so many of whose are gathered here today.”
“We pray that Dillon is now at rest.”
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, was represented at the funeral by Commandant Deirdre Newell, and the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin was represented by Commandant Claire Mortimer.
After the mass, Dillon Quirke, who is survived by his parents Dan and Hazel, sisters Shannon and Kellie, was laid to rest under a blanket of warm sunshine, in the adjoining Clonoulty cemetery.