‘Storyteller’ Ross McDonnell brought light to those around him, filmmaker’s funeral hears

Emmy-award winning Irish photographer described as someone who ‘always had a smile on his face’

Ross McDonnell, the award winning Irish photographer and filmmaker, was remembered at his funeral as someone who brought light into the lives of those around him.

Mourners gathered at Dardistown Crematorium for a funeral service on Monday afternoon, where McDonnell was described as someone who loved adventure and “always had a smile on his face”.

A photographer and documentary director who won two Emmy awards, he died in New York aged 44, after getting into difficulty while swimming off Fort Tilden beach, Queens, on November 4th.

Lara O’Brien, the funeral celebrant, said McDonnell, who was originally from Howth, north Co Dublin, was a “storyteller”, who “lived and worked and died doing exactly what he loved”.

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Delivering the eulogy, Ross Killeen, one of his oldest friends, recalled how the pair first met as 15-year-olds working in the Bloody Stream pub in Howth. After work the two teenagers would “pilfer” some drinks from the stockroom and sit out on a bench talking for hours about their favourite movies and plans for life, he said.

McDonnell was “a great talker”, who brought energy and a “can-do attitude” to everything, he said. “When he saw an opportunity for adventure he took it,” his friend told those gathered in the packed chapel in north Co Dublin.

Mr Killeen recalled one occasion where Ross “invited himself” on to a trip to London that had been planned, which resulted in four friends sharing a three-man tent at the Glastonbury music festival.

Later in life his work took him to Mexico, Afghanistan and Ukraine among other destinations, with McDonnell making friends “wherever he went,” he said. “He always had a backpack on his back, we gave him the nickname Action Man,” he said.

“He loved coming home every Christmas, he loved the fresh air of Ireland ... He loved the sea, that’s where he was happiest,” he said.

“He was the busiest man I know, but he always had time for you. He really lived his life, he grabbed the opportunity of it,” his friend recalled.

His niece, Eva Savage, recalled the last time she spoke to Ross on the phone, when he told her “he was living the dream”, she said.

Eva recalled childhood memories of her uncle “playing pirates” with her and the two of them building time machines out of cardboard boxes together. He had “the sweetest soul” and the “kindest heart”, she said.

“I miss you more than life itself, you were taken too soon. Rest easy Ross,” she said.

His parents, Maureen and Nicky, extended their thanks and appreciation to those who had supported the family over the difficult number of weeks since Ross was first reported missing.

Irish singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey performed his song Apple of My Eye at the service, with many of those gathered joining in for the final chorus. “Go on Ross, you legend, I love you,” Mr Dempsey said as he finished.

Recounting his life in New York, LJ Amsterdam said McDonnell would often say he moved to the city to “live the art life”, which involved “chasing magic and life and light”. He loved the intricate aesthetics of New York, like the fonts on old bodega shopfront signs, she said.

For McDonnell, 4pm was “precisely the right time” for a swim off Fort Tilda beach, as that was when the light of the setting sun caught the dunes and reminded him of Ireland, she said.

As a friend McDonnell was like “a prism” who absorbed the light of the world, “reflecting it out to those around him,” she said. “We are so lucky to have borne witness to Ross’ exquisite light,” she told the mourners.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times