Darren Sutherland leaves ring for last time

 

DARREN “DAZZLER” Sutherland, the 27-year-old Olympian boxer, left the ring for the last time yesterday, surrounded by hundreds of family, friends and admirers, to a liturgy and music filled with grief and bafflement, yearning and hope, writes KATHY SHERIDANIn Navan

“…When it comes to a tragic death, such as the death that brings us here this morning in such numbers, even our silence seems inadequate”, said Fr Declan Hurley, the chief celebrant in the 170-year-old Navan town church of St Mary’s.

“We daren’t utter the usual words of comfort because in the face of tragedy they are meaningless. But our silence betrays a deep uneasiness as we all ponder the question ‘Why?’, the question we hesitate to ask out loud because we know it is a terrifying question and we fear that there is no answer to that question.”

In a congregation that included representatives of the President and the Taoiseach, as well as Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen, young faces dominated, identified by their uniform boxing-club T-shirts and reflective of the rich diversity of new and native Irish in the boxing fraternity. They included a strong representation from St Saviours, the north inner city Dublin club where Darren spent most of his amateur years, whose small boys and youths provided a poignant guard of honour at the end, holding aloft the Olympic flag along with the flag of St Saviours.

During the prayers of the faithful, a young friend broke down as she prayed for those who had helped Darren “on the path to becoming a great boxer”. Others thanked God for Darren’s goodness and kindness and prayed that his friends and young people “may see the beauty of the gift of human life”. Later, they brought up offerings and mementoes of his life, his Olympic bronze, his red boxing gloves and his green Irish team kit.

The music – all sung by Nikki Kavanagh – included traditional hymns such as On Eagle’s Wingsand Be Still My Soul, as well as more secular expressions of loss and longing in Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I’ll be Missing Youby P Diddy and Faith Evans and Runby Snow Patrol.

In his homily, Fr Hurley said for many people, the outstanding memory of Darren is of the smiling champion with the medal around his neck – “a real hero… His bronze medal for Ireland in the Beijing Olympics won the admiration of all; but his smile won the hearts of all. And wherever Darren went, his gentle, kind, modest, generous heart endeared him to everybody. His success in Beijing obviously brought great demands but he responded generously, whether it was offering encouragement to young boxers, or speaking to students in his former school or visiting sick children in hospital.”

His dedication to his sport never diminished his humanity, never allowed the constant striving and personal sacrifices to diminish the love and goodness which are the potential of every human being, he said. To his parents and his sisters, he was much more than the “Dazzler” and proud as they are of his achievements, “faced with the horrible, painful reality that his young life has been brought to a tragic end, they would willingly swap all those achievements to have the son and brother they love back in their arms…”

Fr Hurley spoke of the light of the paschal candle and the hope given to Darren at his Baptism, “but for reasons we will never fully understand, at some point just a week ago, Darren found that he could no longer see that light on his path…”

The mourners were led by Darren’s parents,Tony and Linda, his sisters, Nicole an Shaneika, and their extended family. Politicians included Shane McEntee, Damien English, Mayor of Navan Joe Reilly and Cllr John V Farrelly. Among the many figures from the sports world were John Treacy of the Irish Sports Council, Pat Hickey of the Olympic Council of Ireland, Michael Carruth, Kenny Egan, John Joe Nevin, Jim Rock, Mick Dowling, Martin Rogan, Eamon Coghlan and Jimmy Magee.