‘There is a real sadness hanging over the whole town. People are just heartbroken’

A poignant scene in Killarney town centre today as Johnny Hickey’s funeral cortege is led through the streets by a rally car, reflecting his passion for motorsports.
Picture: Marie Carroll-O’Sullivan

THE distinctive rumble of a power-packed rally car provided a most appropriate backdrop as the much-loved Johnny Hickey was today accompanied on a final journey through the streets of the town where he was greatly valued and much loved.

A legend in motorsport circles, Johnny’s funeral cortege was accompanied by a number of impressive vehicles, not least the distinctive royal blue Ford Escort Mk2 in which he accompanied his dad, Charlie, on some wonderful rally voyages around the country, clocking up some notable successes along the way.

Johnny was a master navigator and after getting hold of his first set of pace notes at the age of 16, he went on to perfect the skill and deservedly earned a reputation as being one of the best in the business.

Johnny Hickey (right) with his dad Charlie who were a force to be reckoned with on the rally circuit.
Picture: Eamonn Keogh

Johnny, who was just 37 years of age, passed away suddenly after falling ill at his home in Riverside Drive, Killarney on Saturday morning.

Blessed with a great manner and a wonderful nature, he was the beloved husband of Jennifer and the loving dad of Alyson, Laura, Conor and the late baby Jenelle. He is the son of Charlie and Joan and the adored brother of Charlene, Cathal and Stephen.

He is further survived by his father-in-law Dermot, mother-in-law Marie, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins and a huge circle of friends

Family man: Johnny with his wife Jennifer and children, Alyson, Laura and Conor, visiting Santa in his log cabin at Killarney Outlet Centre at Christmas 2019.
Picture: Eamonn Keogh

As the tragic news of his sudden death filtered through, Killarney was sent into a state of shock and disbelief at losing such a larger-than-life character in the prime of his life.

The glowing tributes that have been paid on social media in recent days were genuine, warm, heartfelt, appropriate and moving and they all had one common theme: Johnny Hickey was a fabulous young man, a kind, compassionate, helpful, witty, charming and bubbly personality who would do anything to help and support others without having to be asked. He was one of the good guys.

A passionate motorsport enthusiast, as well as competing alongside his popular father in various rallies, Johnny was the creative force behind the scenes in Killarney and District Motor Club, organising events, liaising with the press, designing and scripting programmes and ensuring nothing was ever left to chance.

Johnny (centre) celebrates victories by Killarney drivers Rob Duggan (right) and Colin O’Donoghue at the 2019 Rentokil Initial Killarney Historic Rally prizegiving ceremony.
Picture: Eamonn Keogh

He even tried his hand at fashion and merchandise design as the very familiar Rally of the Lakes beanies were personally designed by Johnny. And there’s a printed tag on the inside of each cap emblazoned with his trademark – just in case anyone every forgot it.

Poignantly, Killarney and District Motor Club Chairman, Diarmuid Cronin, placed a beanie Johnny had given to him on the coffin as his clubmate and friend was laid to rest in Aghadoe Lawn Cemetery this afternoon.

Johnny played a full and active role in Killarney life, with his work with businessman Con Duggan bringing him into contract with so many people on a daily basis.

He was an active volunteer with the tidy towns committee and was always on hand to steer one of the floats through the packed streets for the annual Christmas in Killarney parades. Fittingly, the festival committee and Killarney Chamber of Tourism and Commerce members lined the streets in silent tribute as Johnny’s funeral passed by today.

Johnny Hickey’s ability to organise an event was second to none,not least when it came to local rallies.
Picture: Eamonn Keogh

Also providing a guard of honour were his motor club colleagues and his pals in Killarney Cycling Club. Johnny – who was Irish cross country champion at under 16 level – was a very familiar sight on his mountain bikeand he loved the competing from a very young age.

At the Requiem Mass in St Mary’s Cathedral this morning, celebrant Fr Jim Lenihan said Killarney was stunned to have lost such a wonderful human being.

“The faces of people around the town since the news broke told the story how incredibly sad all of this is.

“He is a huge loss and he touched the lives of so many people,” said the principal celebrant who was joined on the altar by Fr Agustus, OFM, from the Franciscan Friary and Fr Pat O’Donnell, Parish Priest of Rathmore who is a family friend.

Fr Lenihan said the sad events of recent days reminded him of a line from the movie Braveheart which concluded that every man dies but not every man really lives. Johnny Hickey certainly lived, he stressed.

“There is a real sadness hanging over the whole town. People are just heartbroken and so shocked,” Fr Lenihan said.

In a moving tribute, Johnny’s dad, Charlie, said little did he think when he was kept awake all night worrying about a speech he had to give at Johnny’s wedding less than four years ago that he would have to deliver a eulogy to his son.

Quite a team: Charlie and Johnny at the ceremonial start of the 2016 Rally of the Lakes in Killarney town centre.
Picture: Eamonn Keogh

“Johnny was a beautiful person. To have lost him is absolutely heartbreaking and such a shock to us all,” he said, adding that he was adored by his wife and children, the extended Hickey family and so many great friends.

He recalled great days he and Johnny shared on the rally circuit, when they had brilliant fun and occasional arguments and he reflected that Johnny was always so competitive and anxious to be the best that he could be.

Charlie said the family had been completely overwhelmed by the messages of support and love they have received since Saturday.

“We will remember the good times we had with him. Johnny wouldn’t want us to be sad – he’d tell us to get on with it. He will live in our hearts forever,” Charlie said.

There were emotional scenes at Aghadoe Lawn Cemetery where, with moving background music featuring some of Johnny’s favourite tracks, Killarney and District Motor Club Chairman, Diarmuid Cronin, recalled his tremendous dedication to club events and his unrivalled organisational abilities.

He said Johnny had three great characteristics – first and foremost he was a family man, then he was a competitor and then a clubman. Most of all, he was a wonderful man.

Poignantly, Johnny was laid to rest just days before the 2021 Rally of the Lakes would have been due to commence.