Ronan Hughes ‘had his life taken from him’

The coffin of 17-year-old Ronan Hughes is carried into St Patrick's Church in Clonoe
The coffin of 17-year-old Ronan Hughes is carried into St Patrick's Church in Clonoe

Family, school friends and representatives from Ronan Hughes’ gaelic football club joined hundreds of mourners to say goodbye to the ‘sensible and delightful good lad’ who took his own life after being duped online.

Police are investigating if the schoolboy who was tricked into posting pictures online was being blackmailed.

Geraldine Donnelly, the principal at St Joseph’s school where Ronan was a student, said it appeared to be more than just a case of online bullying.

“This is something different and even more sinister than online or cyber bullying and I think it’s important that message gets out to young people and gets out to parents and gets out to teachers,” she said.

“What we’re possibly looking at is some international element, of Ronan having been targeted from abroad purely to extort and blackmail him for money.”

His funeral took place at St Patrick’s Church in Clonoe, where he and his brother Cathal were altar boys.

Addressing mourners Father Benny Fee said: “Ronan Hughes dear people, did not take his own life – the life of Ronan was taken from him.”

The St Joseph’s Donaghmore schoolboy died just days after telling his parents and police about being tricked into posting photographs of himself on the internet.

His funeral Mass was held in Clonoe at 11am and he was laid to rest in the parish graveyard afterwards.

Year 14 pupils from his school joined his Clonoe O’Rahillys team mates to form a guard of honour as Ronan’s remains were driven to the church by hearse.

In his homily parish priest Fr Fee told mourners: “Somewhere in the big world today – perhaps very far from Clonoe – is a man or a woman or a gang who are guilty of a terrible crime.

“While I wish that faceless man or woman no ill, that man or woman ... lured this child into a web and took his life.”

Likening the attack on Ronan to the Spider and Fly fable, he added: “Ronan was a victim of the abuse of the world wide web and social media, criminal people who lured Ronan into their sticky parlour of greed and evil.”

He also commended the young man’s parents Gerard and Teresa, saying “Ronan was blessed with the best parents a child could hope for,” as it was them he turned to in his time of need.

And he told the congregation he hoped those responsible would be caught.

“I do pray with all my heart that they may be caught,” he added, “and they may be brought to justice for the agony they have brought to the Hughes family.

“Those faceless people were not down in the back field in Aughamullan last Friday – but they might as well have been there.

“They committed a heinous crime that has robbed the best of a father and the best of a mother – they robbed them of Ronan.”

Fr Fee added: “People took advantage of his youth and his beauty. They exploited him and they broke him. And if they could do it to him, they could do it to anyone. May God forgive them.”

SDLP councillor Malachy Quinn, who attended the funeral, said the community in Coalisland since Saturday “has been in mourning and everyone is devastated”.

“Everyone is so upset even though he is not related to everybody, but people feel as if he is,” he said.

“It is a loss of one of our own with such tragic circumstances behind it. Because what happened is so unique and it is something that you almost hear about on the news, you do not think it should come to our community. You never expect it to happen this close to your own community.”

He added that he had seen Ronan “who lived a short distance from me” often at Mass.

The youngster was also a talented GAA player and a member of Clonoe O’Rahilly’s club in Co Tyrone.

In a statement, the club said they were “shocked and saddened” by his death.

They described him as a “quiet and modest young lad who was popular among all players and coaches”.

“His death has left a dark shadow hanging over our club,” they said.

Ronan will be dearly missed by his parents Gerard and Teresa and his siblings Cathal and Liza.