Thousands of mourners gathered to pay tribute to Irish rally driver Craig Breen

Thousands of mourners gathered to pay tribute to World Championship Rally driver Craig Breen who “can never be replaced”
Thousands of mourners gathered to pay tribute to Irish rally driver Craig Breen

Sarah Slater

Thousands of mourners gathered to pay tribute to World Championship Rally driver Craig Breen who “can never be replaced”.

Mr Breen died last Thursday while test driving a route ahead of the upcoming Croatia Rally. His co-driver James Fulton was uninjured.

People from across Ireland and abroad began to gather at around 11am outside the Sacred Heart Church, Ferrybank on the edge of Waterford city.

The rally driver’s heartbroken parents Jackie and Ray, sister Kellie and brother-in-law Darragh, held hands tightly as they followed the hearse as they left his home on the Kilkenny/Waterford border.

The sun belied the sadness that was keenly felt by his family, friends and Hyundai teammates as they gathered to say their final goodbyes.

Guard of honour

Pupils from St Mary’s Boys National School provided a guard of honour and his much loved red, white and blue Ford Sierra rally car led his remains into the Church grounds followed by Powers Funeral Directors hearse.

His coffin adorned with the Irish tricolour, surrounded by flag bearers was carried into his Requiem Mass by six pallbearers, followed by his family, his Hyundai motorsport teammates, close friends and fans. His godson Bobbie and close friend Olympic hurdler Sarah Lavin were also in the congregation.

As the tricolour was removed from his coffin it was replaced with a simple white Orchid and Rose floral wreath, candle and the Bible. symbols of Mr Breen’s life including his helmet, gloves, trophy and tea bags were brought to the altar.

Singer Sarah Jane Lavery and guitarist Mark Robinson performed Coldplay’s Yellow as Mr Breen’s arrived into the flower filled Church.

His sister Kellie in a eulogy at the start of her brother’s Mass said: “My family would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of support over the last number of days.

“I want to say a few words about my little brother, the guy with the helmet. He was a little rogue for always leaving us jobs to do. Craig was the cutest child, placid, easy going all he wanted was day in and day out was to play with something that had wheels.

“We will never figure out how he ended up having to get seven stitches in his head following a keyboard lesson. We are so lucky that our Mam loved taking photos and videos. We have copious amounts of videos when we were kids. He was always a bit unpredictable. He was only out on his new quad in a field nearby when Mam got a call to say it was on its roof. He gravitated to anything with a smell of gas. He loved to push things to their limits.”

Where do you find words for all of this? It’s nearly impossible.

Parish Priest Fr Kieran O’Shea, who concelebrated the Mass with Fr Jim Crotty told mourners inside and outside the Church: “As we gather on this occasion of heartache as we welcome Craig into this Church today as he undertakes his final stage. We gather with immense sadness and grief. Where do you find words for all of this? It’s nearly impossible.

“This is an unbelievably sad day, a day that in our wildest imaginations no-one would ever think this is reality. This is as real as it gets. Craig’s all too short life has ended.

“We are gathering in this safe place to express our sorrow, our grief to do so in the presence of God. You might be asking where God was when Craig needed him. Who is this God? We pray that Craig, who had such presence in this life, achieved so much, he was such a light that continues to bask into the light of eternity.”

Fr O’Shea continued: “There is sadness, there are tears, but the sun is shining today too. It’s shining today because we are bidding farewell to someone who brought sunshine and joy to so many people in his short journey through life.

“We are so grateful that our tears are mingled with gratitude today. Today we gather for somebody who has gone way too young while he lived his dream.”

"The first time Craig was carried into the Church was in Slieverue just up the road was on the March 24th, 1990 for his baptism. Waterford was at the heart of where he learned his trade in so many different ways. The best tribute to Craig is to go out and live our lives. He’s finished his race.”

Other songs mourners listened to included Amazing Grace, the Beatles’ Let it Be, Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, Robbie Williams’ Better Man and Forever Young by Alphaville as his remains were carried to his final resting place.

His Hyundai Motorsport team, for whom Craig was a driver, released a statement confirming that they will still take part in Croatia Rally this week which starts on Thursday to Sunday.

They said the decision to participate was reached after careful consideration, which included discussions with the family of Craig Breen, his co-driver James Fulton, and Hyundai Motorsport's crew and team members.

Mike Chen, rally driver and WRC Live TV broadcaster told the congregation: “Craig Breen the Mayor of Happy. There’s been such a massive outpouring of grief for Craig. I’m privileged to say a few words about not just my friend but our friend.

“Ray and Jackie your amazing son, Kellie your amazing brother even at times he drove us all mad. He was as genuine as he came. We all know about Craig’s amazing rallying achievements of which there were so many, national championships and international championships. He was known the world over, but he never forgot his roots.

“He was a proud lad from Waterford. He was a massive rally fan who had a dream and lived it to become a superstar and he was a superstar but he kept his feet firmly on the ground. He remained entirely humble and always made time for people. He had an answer for everything, that’s when he was at his best, he was real and he wasn’t afraid to hide his emotions. He either made you laugh hysterically or cry.

“Craig has left an indelible mark on us all. He came from the best family and he had the best friends. The world was a better place for having him. Thank you for being a great friend to me and to us all. I’m going to miss you like mad. Rally made in peace my brother. He can never be replaced.”

Mr Chen remembered how his friend "commentating in Mexico wearing nothing but a smile, the tightest pair of boxer shorts and headphones as it was so hot".

Irish rally driver Craig Breen, who has died after a crash in Croatia.
People from across Ireland gathered to mourn Craig Breen.

Several other motorsport commentators praised the Waterford man and vowed to “never stop talking about him.”

In a statement on Monday night from Hyundai Motorsport said: "(Mr) Breen’s family and James Fulton confirmed it was their wish that the team competes in Croatia in honour of Craig.”

At the end of his funeral, images and words from Mr Breen rang out in the adjoining cemetery as he was laid to rest.

Hyundai Motorsport Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul added: "After careful consideration involving all stakeholders, we have decided to participate in the Croatia Rally.

"We will do this in memory of Craig, to honour him, his passion for rallying and his competitive spirit.

"We will enter two cars and withdraw the third entry as a mark of respect.

"Both cars will run with a special livery for Craig, his family, friends and fans. It is clear from speaking to everyone that the best way to honour Craig’s legacy was not to withdraw our entry, so we participate mindful of our lost team-mate, friend and incredible competitor."

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