A final homecoming – that's how the family of former Republic of Ireland footballer and Ireland cricketer Noel Cantwell described their decision to bring their father's ashes back to be scattered in his native Cork where he sported and played as a youngster.
Mr Cantwell’s daughters, Elizabeth and Kate, were joined by Kate’s sons, Sam and Joe, their cousin Alison and others for the poignant ceremony at the County Cork Cricket grounds on the Mardyke near where he grew up playing soccer with Western Rovers and cricket with Cork Bohemians.
Kate revealed that while her father may have signed for West Ham at the age of just 17 and gone on to play 245 times for the Hammers before signing for Manchester United who he captained to FA Cup success in 1963, and he may have settled in Peterborough, Cork was always home for him.
“If you were to ask my Dad where ‘home’ is, he would always say Cork. He loved this city like no other, he loved the characters and the craic and he especially loved the Mardyke and the Cricket Club – I know for a fact that cricket was my Dad’s favourite sport,” she said.
"He used to get into trouble with Sir Matt Busby when he was with Man Utd because Dad would spend his summers travelling to Ireland and beyond to play cricket – he actually turned down a professional contract from Essex because it would mean no summer trips to Cork."
Elizabeth said their father was such an influence on their lives and Cork was such an influence on him that it seemed right to bring his ashes back to Cork, particularly following the death of their mother, Maggie, last year as she too had loved coming to Cork with him for their summer holidays.
Kate revealed that their mother had been hugely moved to see so many of their father's friends when they came to Cork for the unveiling of the Noel Cantwell Way on the Mardyke in May 2015 and they heard so many lovely stories about their father.
"We knew then we should bring Dad back to Cork and Mum wholeheartedly agreed. Sadly, we lost Mum last year, but I know she would be so proud of us for organising this and finally bringing Dad back home," said Kate as she thanked Cllr Mick Finn for helping to organise the ceremony.
Following prayers by Fr John Finn, Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Tony Fitzgerald said he was proud to welcome home Mr Cantwell's ashes to the Mardyke where, in the words of the Cork anthem The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee, he "sported and played 'neath each green leafy shade".
Former Munster rugby player Ray Hennessy, who delivered the eulogy at Mr Cantwell's funeral in Peterborough in 2005, recalled their great friendship and paid tribute to his late friend, describing him as "a tremendous sportsman and a most generous man".
Among those to attend Friday afternoon's ceremony was FAI president Tony Fitzgerald, former Irish rugby international Noel Murphy, former Irish cricket international Pat Dineen, former West Ham player Pat O'Mahony, former Cork ladies' football coach Eamon Ryan and Cork soccer historian Plunkett Carter.