Mourners hear of 'one in a million' football fan


IRELAND GOALKEEPER Shay Given and FAI chief executive John Delaney were among the hundreds of people who turned out for the funeral of James Nolan (21), who drowned accidentially in Poland while there to support the Irish team at the European Championships.

The Irish soccer anthem, Fields of Athenry, was played as a lament by two musicians as Mr Nolan’s coffin was borne from the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Blessington, Co Wicklow, to Burgage Cemetery for burial.

There wasn’t nearly enough space in the compact local church for yesterday’s funeral Mass, so many gathered outside around the loudspeakers set up for the occasion.

The congregation, which was led by Mr Nolan’s parents Jimmy and Essie, his sister Suzie and his brother Andy, heard multiple stories of Mr Nolan’s passion for sport and for fun.

The presentation of gifts reflected the multiplicity of his sporting interests. There was a Blessington FC jersey, a Gaelic football jersey, an Irish jersey, his Playstation Fifa World Soccer game and a set of darts. His coffin was draped with a Manchester United shirt with his nickname Jams and the number one on the back. A guard of honour was provided by his team-mates from Blessington FC.

Suzie Nolan said they had searched for a meaning to her brother’s tragic death. She described him as “one in a million” and somebody whose sense of vitality was a lesson to people who were in despair or depression as a result of the recession. He lived every day “with absolute contentment” and everybody could learn from that, she said.

“He lived and he loved and that made him so happy. If one person leaves here and just tries to live and to love, maybe that is why James was chosen.”

Parish priest Fr Tim Murphy said it was some consolation to the family that Mr Nolan’s body had been recovered by the Polish authorities. He praised the gesture of Irish captain Robbie Keane who held up a shirt with the words “RIP James Nolan” after scoring for LA Galaxy at the weekend.

Fr Murphy said Keane’s gesture showed the bond between the Irish team and its supporters which was evident in Poland.

“We are a people who showed something really good to the world,” he said. “We have a spirit that personified in a young man like James. That is the spirit that will change this country.”

The Taoiseach was represented by his aide-de-camp Comdt Michael Tracey and President Higgins by his aide-de-camp Capt Louise Conlon.

Fr Murphy said the Polish concept of solidarity summed up the congregation’s feelings towards the Nolan family. The Polish ambassador to Ireland, Martin Nawrot, attended the Mass. The mayor of Bydgoszcz, Rafal Bruski, also sent a message of support to the family.

James’s body was recovered from the river Brda in Bydgoszcz last Wednesday. He went missing in the early hours of Sunday morning last week after a night out in the city with his friends.