Talented young footballer Niall Laverty (19) remembered at funeral as a 'precious gem'
A talented young Gaelic footballer who died suddenly just days after moving to Belfast to start university has been remembered as a "precious gem" who "lived life to the full".
A huge crowd of mourners gathered yesterday at St Patrick's Church in Saul, near Downpatrick, for the funeral of Niall Laverty.
The 19-year-old, who had been due to begin a sports studies degree at Ulster University in Jordanstown, was found at his student accommodation in the Holylands area of south Belfast on Thursday.
A former pupil of St Patrick’s Grammar School in Downpatrick, he was the vice-captain of its Gaelic football team which won this year’s MacLarnon Cup.
He was also a member of both Saul and Ballygalget GAA clubs as well as Ballynagross FC.
During yesterday's Requiem Mass, symbols of the teenager's life were placed at the front of the church.
They included the MacLarnon Cup, a photo of Niall, a blanket and his boots.
Fr Paul Alexander said there was deep sadness following Niall's sudden death.
"You all have your own memories. Hold on to them, they are precious," he said.
"Tell the stories, laugh, cry. Niall will become more alive in our midst each time."
Fr Alexander praised the local sports clubs and community who had offered support in the aftermath of Niall's death.
"This community, the clubs, can hold your heads up high," he said.
"You did him proud. You showed what a community is meant to be. That was wonderful and that will be great support in the days and months ahead not just for his family but for each of us here today.
"Don't be afraid in a month's time, two months' time, to say 'I am still sad'. That's okay. That is perfectly all right. There's help out there - talk to people. There's professional help - go out and look for it. There's people who will listen and people will help. We can come out of this very strong people caring for each other."
Fr Alexander said Niall had "lived his life to the full".
"He supported his team, his family and he was there for you all. This world was a better place for Niall. It's empty and sadder with his passing".
Following the Mass, Niall was laid to rest in the adjoining cemetery.