Jockeys pay final tribute to ‘prince’ of racing JT McNamara

Former champion handled life-changing injury ‘with strength and courage’, funeral told

National hunt jockeys formed a guard of honour for John Thomas McNamara at his funeral Friday as mourners remembered a “prince” of the sport.

The former champion amateur rider died last Monday aged 41 from catastrophic injuries he sustained three years ago in a fall at Cheltenham.

In an emotional tribute, his widow, Caroline described JT as “an amazing sports man, great husband, and father”.

Ironically, his life-changing injury had brought him and his three little children closer in his last few years, the funeral mass was told.

“There was many many difficult days but his sheer determination, and strength of character gave him three years and four months to spend with us, and allowed Dylan, Harry, and Olivia, precious time to form fond memories of their Dad,” she said.

Hundreds of mourners, including leading jockeys Ruby Walsh and AP McCoy, attended the funeral in St Michael's Church, Manister, Co Limerick.

Other well-known faces from the racing world travelled from the Galway festival to pay their respects, including McNamara’s former boss, JP McManus; trainer Michael “Mouse” Morris, and a host of elite trainers and breeders.

JT’s first cousin, jockey Robert McNamara — who was paralysed from the waist down in a fall in 2015 but has managed to get back up on the saddle following surgery and gruelling sessions of physiotherapy - attended the mass and graveside in a wheelchair, a reminder of the dangers of the sport.

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny was represented at the funeral by his aide de camp, Commandant Kieran Carey. President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp, Lt Col Michael Kiernan.

Chief celebrant Canon Garry Bluett, retired Manister parish priest, described his late friend JT, as a "prince" with "a kind and generous soul".

McNamara, who was left paralysed from the neck down in the Cheltenham festival fall, had won 600-times in the McManus silks.

Tears flowed as the 41-year old’s three young children, Dylan, Harry, and Olivia, held onto their mother, as each dropped a single white rose onto their father’s coffin as he was laid to rest.

“Thank you God for my Dad. We ask the Angels to take good care of you. We love you Dad,” said Harry, in a prayer of the faithful.

McNamara’s widow said her late husband’s “passion for horses, and commitment to racing, has been well-highlighted with all the amazing tributes over the last few days. It is a testament to him... even though he could be quiet grumpy at times, he seemed to be well liked,” she said.

“You always knew where you stood with John — he was straight, witty, honest, and extremely direct.”

She drew warm laughter from the congregation as she recalled the birth of the couple’s second child Harry: “(John) was more concerned with how long the labour would be, as he needed to be in Punchestown that afternoon to ride L’Ami. I’m still wondering which one he was more delighted with, the win, or the Harry.”

She described how “nearing the end” of her husband’s riding career, JT’s life “took a horrendous turn, and one we will never forget. He handled it with strength and courage”.

Thanking people for their “outpouring of support”, she praised the Irish Injured Jockeys Club, Irish Turf Club, and the Injured Jockeys Fund UK. “Without their support John’s return home would not have been possible.”

“Facing adversary, John set himself goals all the time, and one of those goals true to his heart was getting back to Croom and to his yard. I’m glad that we were able to get him home in the past five weeks. Although short-lived, John gained the independence to go to and from the yard he loved.”

Wishing to “end on a lighter note”, Caroline told mourners: “I never knew that the only person John was afraid of, was me. It’s a pity I wasn’t aware of this sooner, as I could have used it to my advantage and had a few more wins myself.”

Fr Bluett said McNamara had a good life, “a life which should be an inspiration to us all”.

Quoting the French philosopher Michel de Montaigne, he summed up the Limerick jockey’s zest for his work and family. “Value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them. John certainly made use of the gifts and life that god gave him,” Fr Bluett said.

Fr Bluett cajoled more laughter when he described how “strong willed and determined” McNamara had been: “He had a great command of the english language — some might not be found in the Oxford dictionary.”

In a final tribute, he thanked JT for the many “beautiful memories” he had given everyone who loved him and his sport.

“Memories are our fondest possessions which time can never destroy,” Fr Bluett said.