Sons, a brother and a best friend. Pallbearers at the funeral of Eunan Blake on Saturday, his brother Liam, his sons Gary and Tony and life long friend Paul Duffy . Photo Brian McDaid
Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake, one of Donegal’s most respected sports personalities, was described as “a proper gentleman” and a “cultured footballer” at his funeral Mass on Saturday.
Family, friends, members of the wider community and many footballers who had shared a pitch with Mr. Blake during his illustrious career gathered at St. Eunan’s Cathedral on Saturday afternoon to say good-bye to the Letterkenny man.
Mr. Blake died on Wednesday at St. Eunan's Nursing Home, Letterkenny, after a long illness.
Father Philip Daly of Kilclooney, principal celebrant at the Mass and a brother-in-law of Mr. Blake, welcomed mourners in the cathedral “for the funeral Mass of someone who was and is rightly described as a proper gentleman”.
Former Letterkenny Rovers players were joined in a guard of honour at the door to the Cathedral by former Derry City players Eddie Mahon and Dougie Wood.
Mr. Blake’s footballing career saw him play for Letterkenny Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Derry City and Finn Harps, and earning six inter-league caps for the League of Ireland representative side. He coached and managed at League of Ireland level, and in his close association with Letterkenny he served that club in various roles – player, coach, manager, trustee and honorary life member.
At the start of the Mass, three of Mr. Blake’s grandchildren carried important memorabilia belonging to Mr. Blake to place beside his remains: Matthew carried a League of Ireland jersey, to represent the seven occasions Mr. Blake represented the league; David carried his Derry City jersey, for his 10 years with the Derry club; and Cian carried a collage he had compiled as part of a school project that illustrated Mr. Blake’s achievements as a footballer with each team, as well as his games in Europe.
“Cian also found out that the following English clubs wanted to sign him: West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Everton and even Glasgow Rangers,” Father Daly said. “Yes, he declined them all – after all, he was a ‘townie’ and he was in love with a local girl.”
In 2010, Mr. Blake was presented with the Donegal Hall of Fame Sportstar award. Among the former football players at the Mass were Dessie Kelly, now Letterkenny Rovers club chairman; former Letterkenny Rovers players Charlie Collins, Gerry Meehan, Davey Cowan and Anthony Gorman; former Derry players Chang Smith and Felix Healy; and former Harps Jim Sheridan, Joe Logan and Con McLaughlin.
In his welcome at the start of the Mass, Father Daly said, “God gives each of us many gifts during the course of life. And one of his greatest gifts to us are the people who are dear to us, close to us and good to us.
“In Busty Blake, God gave us a great gift,” he said. He said God gifted Mr. Blake with football skills and talent.
“As his good friend and football colleague Jim Sheridan described him, ‘Busty was a ‘cultured footballer’ – in other words, he made the game look simple,” he said.
Recalling Mr. Blake’s achievements, Father Daly said, “All of these we now celebrate as we begin his funeral Mass in Thanksgiving,” as the congregation applauded in recognition of Mr. Blake’s life and accomplishments.
But there was more to Mr. Blake than his footballing exploits, Father Daly said, recalling his sincerity, friendliness, his sense of caring for anyone in trouble and his strong sense of fair play to everyone, “especially on the football field”.
“He was a great ambassador in so many ways for the town of Letterkenny,” Father Daly said.
Mr. Blake is survived by his wife, Kate; his daughters, Brenda Sheridan and Karen Logue; sons, Gary and Tony; grandchildren; his brother, Liam, and sisters, Rosie Oates (Sligo) and Mary Green (Letterkenny). His son-in-law Don and daughter-in-law Caroline brought the gifts to the altar at the Mass, which was concelebrated by Father Eamonn Kelly, Canon Willie McMenamin and Father Dominic Curran.