Tributes have been paid to a former “celebrity” chaplain to the Republic of Ireland soccer team, who famously secured a private audience between Pope John Paul II and the Irish squad during their most successful World Cup in Italy in 1990.
Retired Reverend Monsignor Liam Boyle, a native of Rathkeale and later of Knockaderry, Co Limerick, died last week at the age of 91 following a long illness.
He had formed a close friendship with the late legendary Irish soccer manager Jack Charlton, before the English 1966 World Cup winner steered the team to its first ever World Cup quarter-final.
Then, on the back of Ireland’s dramatic penalty-kick group stage victory over Romania, which put them in the final four against the tournament’s hosts, Msgr Boyle pulled strings in the Vatican City to set up the special meeting with the pope.
For most of the Irish players it turned out to be the pinnacle of their Italian odyssey, as they were honoured at the front of an 8,000-strong audience with the pontiff.
'Dream come true'
Afterwards, a visibly shell-shocked Packie Bonner told a waiting RTÉ news crew, “there have been a few special moments in my life, but that was probably the best”, while defender David O’Leary, who had shot the team through to the quarter-finals, described the meeting as “a dream” come true.
Monsignor Boyle, who died at Milford Hospice on December 2nd, was laid to rest in Newcastle West following a funeral mass in the local Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Speaking at the mass, Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy said the late Vicar General of the Limerick Diocese had been an “exemplary priest”.
A green Republic of Ireland soccer jersey was laid at the altar beside Msgr Boyle’s coffin “representing his life-long interest in all sport, but in particular his long involvement with the national soccer team during the Jack Charlton era,” said his grandniece Emer Curtin.
When Liam was less involved with the team, the results seemed to deteriorate, one wonders was there a divine influence at play
Monsignor Boyle’s nephew Larry Curtin thanked all those who had cared for his uncle throughout his long illness.
Mr Curtin drew laughter from the congregation when recalling “Liam’s involvement with the Irish soccer team during the glory years”, adding “he was always a great source of tickets”.
“I often wondered when Liam was less involved with the team, the results seemed to deteriorate, one wonders was there a divine influence at play,” he joked.
Chief celebrant, and life-long friend Canon Donal McNamara, told mourners: “Without doubt, Liam Boyle’s passing marks the end of an era, his talents were recognised by the Holy Father when he travelled as chaplain with the Irish soccer team to Rome in 1990 and was welcomed warmly and blessed by the Holy Father, as was the team.”
“His witness, spiritual leadership and example had a profound impact on the team and indeed on the nation, because, like it or not, he became a clerical celebrity back in the day.”
Predeceased by his parents William and Bridie, and sister Kitty, Monsignor Boyle is survived by sister Aine, nephew, grandnieces and grandnephews.