‘Quiet man of deep faith’ remembered by gathered West Limerick community

The late John Michael McSweeney.

“THIS is bigger than Shane McGowan”. That was the observation of one mourner who turned out at St Mary’s Church in Carrigkerry to say a final farewell to 73-year-old John Michael McSweeney on this morning (Wednesday, January 17).

He wasn’t wrong. Just as they came in their hundreds to search for the man who was missing for a week from Knocknaclugga in Athea, friends and neighbours came in droves for his removal on Tuesday and, while the crowds were smaller for his funeral Mass today, the church was still heaving with people queueing out the door to pray and offer condolences.

“Who is my neighbour,” the lyrics of the hymn asked. The McSweeney family know now with certainty that it is the entire West Limerick community.

John Michael’s sister, Margaret, said of him “for a quiet man who never drew any attention to himself, he certainly changed all that in the last week”.

Concelebrated by all four priests of the Athea parish, the Mass heard John Michael described as a “man of deep faith” who rarely questioned, “except to ask why Covid had closed the churches when they were most needed”.

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Thanking the “hundreds of foot soldiers”, the search and rescue teams, and the dozens of Gardaí who walked the forest and bog for seven days to find his brother, Martin McSweeney said their late father “always advised us to never argue amongst ourselves, to walk away from trouble, and he warned us never to bring the guards around the place. John ignored that last bit of that advice”.

“We will be forever grateful for the support and help our family received from so many people,” Martin said.

“I don’t want to single anyone out, but one man stands out. He co-ordinated, he called all the time giving the family updates, and he looked out for our welfare constantly. That man is Inspector Gary Thompson.”

Members of the McSweeney family brought offerings to represent John Michael’s life, a branch of a tree to symbolise his daily walks in the wild and his love of nature, a pint glass because he loved his weekly trip into Athea for chats and a few pints, and a pair of reading glasses and a newspaper to remember his love of reading about news and current events.

John Michael was laid to rest in nearby Calvary Cemetery.