Vigil held in Youghal for two athletes who died during Ironman event

Triathletes arrived on bikes and placed candles near framed images of Ivan Chittenden and Brendan Wall

A piper played a lament at the close of a vigil in Youghal, Co Cork on Thursday evening in memory of athletes Ivan Chittenden and Brendan Wall who died while participating in an Ironman event in the seaside town last Sunday.

Up to 700 people attended the candlelit vigil which took place at 7pm on the Green Park bandstand.

Large photographs of the two men had been put on the bandstand, while triathletes arrived on bikes and placed candles near smaller framed images of the deceased.

Sales manager Brendan Wall (45), originally from Cardrath, Co Meath, was laid to rest on Thursday.

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A ceremony was held for 64-year-old Canadian Ivan Chittenden at the Rocky Island Crematorium in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork earlier this week.

A friend of the Wall family read out a statement on behalf of the family at the vigil. She said the loved ones of Brendan wanted to thank the people of the town and surrounding areas for the “huge outpouring of love and kindness” since the tragedy occurred.

“We have been inundated with beautiful messages and gestures of support. There was so many wonderful people who came to Brendan’s assistance – competitors, volunteers and medical personnel.

“We are truly grateful for your heroic efforts. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the family of Ivan Chittenden. May Brendan and Ivan be at peace.”

Earlier, Mr Wall’s funeral Mass heard that he had a big smile on his face and waved goodbye to his family the last time he saw them.

Addressing the congregation, Fr Gerry Boyle, parish priest at the Church of St Brigid, Grangegeeth, near Slane, Co Meath, said: “He made many friends and never seemed to lose any, remaining friends with people from primary school, secondary school, college and the many places he worked. He was well loved and connected.”

He loved outdoor sports: “He completed the London marathon, the Ring of Kerry Cycle, took part in the Gaelforce endurance cycle and I’m sure there were more as well. He trained hard and no doubt it gave him purpose and direction.

“He trained hard for the Ironman on Sunday, and was very excited about it. He had a big smile on his face and waved goodbye as he entered the water. Tina and his family were there to wave him off, as were his in-laws. An occasion of pride and joy, in a short time turned to sorrow and loss.”

Fr Boyle also paid tribute to the emergency services and first responders who sought to help Mr Wall in his time of need.

The funeral featured two Oasis songs: Live Forever and Don’t Look Back in Anger. Symbols of his life were brought to the altar, including a cycling helmet, a pack of playing cards, a Meath jersey and a golf ball.

On his coffin, there were two framed photographs: an image of Brendan, and an image of he and his fiancee kissing.

Mr Wall would have celebrated his 46th birthday next Monday and was due to marry his fiancee Tina next July, having proposed to her in Italy in May last.

The organiser of the Youghal vigil, Tommy Collins, who is a community radio presenter, said people of the town wanted to show solidarity with the families in the wake of tragedy. “We embrace all of those athletes when they come [for the Ironman]. We get to know them and they come back. They really enjoy it. It has become more than a race for the people of Youghal. It is a big community event. When those two men died, it was like something in our families had died.”

One athlete who arrived on his bike said the atmosphere in the town changed in an instant last Sunday with participants going from feeling elated to desperately sad, when word came through of the deaths.

He said the vigil was all about showing respect to two visitors who came to town for a great event but sadly never got to go home. “I was stewarding last Sunday. It’s terribly sad. The [triathlon] clubs are here just to show their support to fellow cyclists and to guys who took part on the day.”

Attendees Colm and Mary O’Connell said it was a heartbreaking week for the families of the men and for Youghal itself. Stressing the need to offer support to the bereaved, Ms O’Connell said: “What happened was terrible. They played Don’t Look Back in Anger at his [Brendan’s] Mass today. I think that is important too.”

Meanwhile, Roger Chittenden, a brother of the late Ivan, said the triathlete was competing in multiple sporting events as part of his “65th birthday tour”. He was due to celebrate the milestone birthday later this year.

Roger Chittenden told the Toronto Star that Ivan was doing a “victory lap, getting all the major things he wanted to get done”.

Ivan Chittenden was primarily a runner until his 50s when he starting cycling and training as an outlet following the sudden death of his wife, Dianne, in 2011.

He did a number of half-Ironman and full Ironman events and ran in the Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, London and Berlin marathons. He subsequently met his second wife, Siobhán Hyland, while on holiday in Paris.

Mr Chittenden retired as a partner at Ernst and Young two years ago and divided his time between Toronto and Dallas where his wife works as a urologist.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times