Ronan Wilson “so loved life” and “touched the hearts of so many people, young and old,” mourners at his funeral Mass have heard.
The nine-year-old, from Kildress in Co Tyrone, was killed in a hit-and-run collision in Co Donegal last weekend.
Welcoming mourners to St Mary’s Church in Dunamore on Thursday, Fr Paddy Hughes said he baptised Ronan in the church nine years ago and celebrated his First Communion Mass 18 months ago.
It is “hard to comprehend that we are gathered here today ... to celebrate his short life,” he said.
School friends from St Mary’s primary school and team-mates from Ronan’s beloved Wolfe Tone’s GAA club in Kildress were among those who brought gifts to the altar in a “procession of mementoes” to celebrate his life. They included a football and football boots, an Xbox controller, family pictures, a “wee lorry to represent his love of lorries”, his school jersey and a Tyrone jersey.
Ronan’s white coffin was taken to the church on the back of a lorry cab, with his football jersey resting on top.
Sinn Féin vice-president and Northern Ireland’s First Minister designate Michelle O’Neill was among the mourners who attended.
Fr Hughes recalled how, at the Mass to celebrate the opening of the school year earlier this month, Ronan carried a football up to the altar.
“He was so proud and wore a great smile as he came up the aisle to present the football to me, and as he handed the football to me, I said to him, ‘Can you play football?’, and the smile got even bigger,” he said.
“Seeing Ronan in and around the school, I would have never had to ask who he was, for he was the double of his Daddy.
“The carrying of the football summed up so much of his character and life,” the priest said.
“The smile, the sense of boyish fun. He so loved life, he loved football, he was proud to get man of the match last year ... He just loved being around the Kildress Wolfe Tone’s field, whether he was playing himself, or watching a match, or training.”
Fr Hughes said Ronan also loved being around the family’s car wash and chip van. “Following in his father’s footsteps, lorries, cars, quads were all important to him, as well as a horse.”
In his short life, the priest said, Ronan was “involved in a lot of activities, and touched the hearts of so many people, young and old”.
The nine-year-old was visiting Bundoran with his family when the collision happened on Atlantic Way on Saturday night. He was pronounced dead at the scene a short time afterwards.
Fr Hughes described how Ronan’s parents, Emma and Dean, and siblings, Calum and Amy, had cradled his body after the crash, comparing the scene to the Michelangelo sculpture, La Pietà.
“It’s a very powerful image, it’s the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary cradling the body of Jesus after he had died on the cross. That image was recreated on Saturday night, as Emma and Dean and Calum and Amy held the body of their dead son, their dead brother, on the road,” he said.
He said that since the news had broken of Ronan’s death the parish had been “stunned” and lost for words. “One of the sentences you would hear is, ‘what can you say?’” he said.
Speaking during the funeral Mass, Eileen Ward, principal at St Mary’s primary school – where Ronan was a P6 pupil, described him as a “special person, one beautiful little boy who has enriched the entire school community”.
She said he was a “great friend to all in his class” and taught everyone, pupils and teachers alike how to embrace life and to be happy.
“We will miss him terribly, be it in the classroom or kicking a ball out in the playground, but we know that he will be our angel walking beside us as we walk through the corridors and classrooms of the school, and he will never be far away,” Ms Ward said.
“His life on earth was short but he touched the lives of so many and he will always be loved and remembered by all his friends and families in St Mary’s Primary School.”
Sergee Kelly (23), from Upper Mullaghmore, Co Sligo, appeared in court on Tuesday charged with failing to stop after the collision, failing to remain at the scene and failing to offer help to the injured party. He was released on bail, and the case was adjourned until next month. Additional reporting – PA