The sun shone on Turf Moor as hundreds of mourners lined the streets to pay their final respects to Burnley Football Club’s greatest ever player and warm-hearted family man, Jimmy McIlroy.
The modest epicentre of the Clarets’ legendary league championship winning team of 1960, relatives, friends and former footballers heard how Burnley’s favourite adopted son made as big an impact off the field as he did on it.
A private service held in the James Hargreaves suite at Turf Moor, saw famous faces from the world of football, politics and entertainment gather to celebrate the life of a very special and remarkable man who always had a twinkle in his eye.
Celebrant Mr Peter Goulding described Jimmy as a self-effacing superstar whose skills as a footballer and warmth as a person had touched the lives of many over his lifetime.
Born and brought up in the small village of Lambeg in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Jimmy was the eldest and only boy in a close-knit family of six children.
When the time came to leave his beloved parents and sisters behind, Jimmy settled in the small town of Burnley where he started his own family with his beloved Barbara, their children Anne and Paul, and of course his “extended family” of the Burnley public.
Burnley-born broadcaster and family friend Peter Salmon recounted happy memories of times he had shared with the McIlroy family, not least at their home in Rosehill, which he described as “cake central” and like the “Great Burnley Bake-off”.
Opening hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ sang by Elvis Presley, preceded more memories of Jimmy, firstly recounted by his newphew Nigel Herbert, who read out a poem ‘Reveal to Me’ his famous uncle had written for a Methodist Church writing competition, the place where he had first met Barbara.
A talented man on many levels, Jimmy could write as smoothly as he could play and another nephew, Andrew Ramsbottom, recited another of his poems, ‘Turn Back Time’.
After hanging up his boots, Jimmy was able to indulge his creative talents even more, working for the Burnley Express, while looking back on a remarkable career.
The gifted inside-forward, who became a champion of England and World Cup quater-finalist with Northern Ireland, had forged some perfect partnerships with several of the game’s most legendary players – Jimmy Adamson with Burnley, Danny Blanchflower with his country, and finally the great Sir Staley Matthews with Stoke City.
The service was told how son Paul had enjoyed the rare opportunity of having kicka-abouts on the pitch with Sir Stanely but also how he dreaded shopping trips to Burnley with his beloved dad who would always sign autographs for anyone who asked.
Although suffering from Alzheimer’s in his final years, Jimmy’s wit had not deserted when he joked how he enjoyed meeting fellow patients because they were the only people in Burnley who couldn’t remember him.
Burnley-educated tenor Sean Ruane, who Jimmy had always enjoyed listening to, sang ‘Nessun Dorma’, before Irish favourite ‘Danny Boy’ was played as the recessional music.
A remarkable man, this modest genius from Northern Ireland has left behind a lifetime of happy memories for the people of Burnley.