A FATHER-of-three has died after falling from his horse during a hunt.
Willie McClean, 51, passed away after days spent in hospital following the fall near Clones in the Republic.
He had been chasing hare with his hunt group, the Fermanagh Harriers, when his horse Tamara jumped up onto a bank.
Mr McClean fell forward off his animal and into a ditch, striking his head.
Efforts were made to revive him by fellow huntsmen, and within about 15 minutes an ambulance arrived to take him to hospital in Cavan.
He was transferred to Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital later that day, October 27.
He never regained consciousness and died surrounded by family on November 2 – the day of his daughter Rachel’s 21st birthday.
His funeral on Tuesday, November 6, drew hundreds of mourners and there was standing room only in the church where the service was held, with some even having to stand outside because the building could not hold them all.
Hunt master John Vance, 43, from Clones, was there on the day of the accident. He said: “It was such a simple fall. Unfortunately he broke his neck.”
Mr McClean had been wearing a riding helmet and back protector, but these had proved powerless to save him.
Asked if anything like this had happened before, Mr Vance said: “In the 300-plus year history of the hunt, this is the first time.
“The whole hunt was devastated, as was evidenced by the large number of people at the funeral.”
He added that their worst fear was that he would survive, but in a paralysed, vegetative state.
“I’m relived that didn’t happen, for Willie’s sake and the family’s,” he said.
“Nothing could be worse than that.”
Dick Power, spokesman of the Hunting Association of Ireland, said: “It’s a relatively high-risk sport, and one has to accept that. It can happen – and it does happen.”
William ‘Willie’ McClean worked as a plumber and agricultural contractor, and was from the village of Lisbellaw in Co Fermanagh.
He had been riding with the club for about four years, and owned four horses.
The club said that they try not to kill any animals while on the hunt.
An owner of vintage tractors, which he would take to charity shows and exhibitions, Mr McClean was also known to have a strong born-again faith.
The funeral was held at Lisnaskea Independent Methodist Church.
Minister David Campbell, who carried out the service, estimated there were 400 to 500 in attendance.
His riding club acted as guard of honour at the service.
He said: “Willie was a very quiet, unassuming and very hard-working person.
“He had a very clear faith in God. He was a man who kept his faith and practised his faith in his life. He’ll be greatly missed by the church community.”
Asked if there was anything that could be learned from the accident, sister-in-law Sharon Howe, 39, from Lisnaskea, said: “I don’t think so. He did everything he could. He was wearing a helmet and a back protector. It was just one of those freak accidents.”
She added that his family had taken comfort from the fact he “died doing something he loved”.
The McClean family have asked for donations to be made to the Intensive Care Units at the Cavan and Royal Victoria hospitals, and the Child Evangelical Fellowship.
This can be done via F Dowler undertakers.
Mr McClean was the father of Ruth, 17, Rebecca, 19, and Rachel, 21. They survive him, as do wife Shirley, brother Robert, sister Hazel and mother Mary.
His father, William, had already passed away.