A sad day for Glenties and the GAA
Father Gerard Cunningham told mourners who gathered for the Funeral Mass of the late Michael 'Jack' O’Donnell that he had lived a full but short life and his memory will live on forever in their hearts and that nothing can ever obliterate that.
“Part of him will always remain in your memories and in your heart and that can never be obliterated or taken away,” he told those closest to Michael.
Gifts that were brought to the fore the chapel at the beginning of Mass and which were chosen to represent the life of the great and gifted GAA freelance photographer included the Dr Maguire cup, his camera lens, GAA jerseys, his notepad and his pen, his cap, his watch and a CD.
A man who was never late for a game
Mourners heard how proud he would be to have the Dr Maguire cup at his Funeral Mass; his camera represented his outlook on life and his dream job and how he captured endless moments in time through his lens, over the course of decades.
His daughter Sinead said:“The jerseys need no explanation as he was known far and wide on match day, Naomh Conaill and Donegal were very close to his heart and he took such pride in letting people know where he came from. Michael was so proud of Naomh Conaill winning the ultimate prize of Donegal football.”
His notepad and pen represented his care for people and of knowing their names from the consultants who cared for him to the student nurse who sat by his bed to care for him.
Michael was a character who loved storytelling and the CD represented his love for storytelling and the wonderful stories that are told through the medium of music.
“The watch never came off his wrist. He was late for everything except football. The cap signifies his love for travel and more close to his heart, America. Many a trip he voyaged across the Atlantic to his second home New York. Himself and Bernie would venture to small townlands of New England … from snapping the beautiful colours of the fall in Vermont to fitting in a few wee concerts red tin sheds along the way. We hope his final journey will have as much love and laughter as these memories have given him.”
The Mass was concelebrated by Father Adrian Gavigan and the Parish Priest of Gortahork, Father Seán Ó Gallchóir.
Blessings for family
Fr Gerard Cunningham said that Michael had lived a short life but ‘an enduring and intense life’ and he thanked God for all that took place in that life and particularly for the love that was given to him during his lifetime.
He asked God to comfort his mother Nora, his brothers, his sisters and for his sister, Siobhan, who was watching the Funeral Mass online from New York and who was separated by sea and miles but united through love, faith and through family ties.
He told siblings who had lost their eldest brother that all the bonds of affection and goodness that they will continue on past death into realms, into eternity.
Before Mass began Father Cunningham asked people to consider Michael’s life which was a life of passions - his love of place, his love of people, his love of photography and that allied in with Gaelic games agus an grá a bhí aige i gcónaí ó thaobh an Cumann Lúthchleas Gael … agus na cluichí uilig tríd an tír.”
A fantastic fusion of talents
Fr Cunningham said that Michael’s eye was drawn to the darting direction of a football in the air, ready to be seized or punched or kicked … as he captured a second in sporting time through the lens of his camera.
“And what a great privilege it is for any of us to hone in on a trade that fuses skill and flair into one and Michael’s profession as a freelance photographer specialising in sport and Gaeilc games, it aligned with so many elements of his life and his temperament - these show a love of place and of parish and of county, of GAA.”
He said that he encompassed a fierce loyalty and an almost childlike enthusiasm for the game but he said above all else he was a people person, particularly his own people, Connallaigh.
Fr Cunningham said that Michael faced challenges and disappointments at times: “But his was a life possessed of positivity for the local, for the domestic, for the heroic of Naomh Conaill under thirteens as much as much as for the inexorable glories of Croke Park.”
“The Democrat, the Post, and other publications, both regional and national, were all the richer for his eye on human nature,” he said.
Life through his lens
Fr Cunningham said that Michael covered more than just sport but that he was often called upon to cover weddings and found him the chronicler of their love as well.
The Glenties-based priest said that God could be found in the portraits that Michael took of beaming smiles of a wedding day party, in the tears of those being vanquished by an opposing team, in the monotony of a dreary training session or in the dreams of a Sunday in September in Croke Park.
He added that away from his life in the sports arena Michael found great love and contentment with Bernie: “A harbour of calm for both of you, sheltered safely, moored from the inclement seas and the choppy currents. It was well named when it was called ‘the rock.’ Love came to dwell and to take up a permanent residency in the rock.”
He said that the emergence over four years ago never brought a word of complaint from Michael. “It was met by Michael with healthy defiance and a great appreciation for his many blessings and your endless care Bernie and all the family.
"He loved you so, so much - Deirdre and Fiona, Sinead and Ciaran and Mark … and all the other small grandchildren. His love for yourselves his brothers and sisters - his abiding love for Ard Patrick, and for you his mammy, for you Nora - his love of you, your first born, that was always to the fore of his life.”
The final whistle
The well-known priest said that the character of our lives can be found in our approach regarding mortality and impending death. He said Michael met it with cheeriness and gratitude - a gratitude he showed the doctors, nurses and on ‘the rock’ itself and gave us a lesson to be thankful to others.
Fr Cunningham said he understood that it was hard:”The first break in the chain but he has gone to your dad but for you … it is hard to let go - the one that led the way being the eldest.”
Fr Cunningham said that Michael had a second family in the GAA.
He said that Michael was now racing down the sideline to God for God is the reitéoir - the whistle has blown.
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