By Christiana E Carey
Joel Richards, the member of James Connolly’s GAA club in Warwickshire who was gunned down in the recent Tunisia terrorist attack, was honoured in Pairc na hEireann last Tuesday night. James Connolly’s were playing John Mitchel’s while Erin-go-Bragh took on Roger Casements in the Home Grown Championship quarter-finals. This was an occasion when football took a back seat.
Joel Richards, 19 from Wednesbury, was shot dead along with his uncle Adrian Evans, and grandfather Charles ‘Patrick’ Evans in the terrorist attack on Friday June 26. In total 38 people killed by the gunman on the resort beach in Tunisia, many of whom were British. Joel’s 16 year old brother Owen survived the attack and has been described as a hero for how he helped another victim to safety from the massacre.
The flag flew at half mast, when John Mitchels, Roger Casements and Erin Go Bragh joined the players from James Connolly’s to observe a minute’s silence as a tribute to the victims and specifically Joel and his family. John Mitchel’s presented the team with a wreath and all teams stood together in solidarity.
The bodies of Joel, Adrian and Charles returned to the UK last week. Owen and his mother Suzanne led the nation in a minute’s silence for the victims on Friday.
Suzanne Richards, mother of Owen and Joel, broke her silence last week when she issued a statement that read: “We are a very small and normal family, but nothing will ever be normal again. My son Joel, dad Pat and brother Adrian were our rocks and we are all heartbroken and devastated and will never get over losing them.
“They were so close that even in those minutes of pure panic the four of them stayed together.
“The “jolly boys outing” as they called it, was to celebrate Joel finishing his 2nd year at University with high grades and Owen finishing his GCSE’S.
“Their holiday lasted less than 24 hours and their futures and lives ended tragically.
“We would like to say how overwhelmed we are with everyone’s tributes, flowers, cards and generosity. They were pure diamonds and will never be forgotten.
“As a nation we must fight this evil together and smile for Joel, Ade and Pat.”
James Connolly GFC in Birmingham were heartbroken by the death of 19-year-old Joel Richards, who was killed in the terrorist attack in Tunisia. Another of the club’s members, Joel’s 16 year old brother Owen, has been hailed a hero for helping another victim to safety.
Joel, from Wednesbury, was among 38 killed when a Tunisian student linked to Islamic State extremists opened fire on a beach in Sousse on June 26.
Joel is described as being selfless and was known to be involved with charity work. Connor Kiernan, a friend from childhood, says the club intend to continue charitable ventures in Joel’s name.
Club president Tony Donahue told The Irish World: “The world is worse off without him. He was special.
“We’re all devastated. I can’t believe it. I just can’t get my head around it.
“He was one of the nicest lads ever. I have had a lot of kids through my hands over the past 23, 24 years and he was one of the most dedicated and likeable children you could meet anywhere, he was a model lad, he was. Incredibly friendly and you would have to know his family to know where he got it from. His family were all lovely.
“He was the nicest lad you could meet anywhere.”
Connor Kiernan, a friend of Joel’s from school and the James Connolly’s club, told The Irish World on Monday June 29: “It is heartbreaking. You hear that word used quite a bit but it is truly heartbreaking, there’s no other way to describe the feeling among friends and family.
“Shock is the right word, I don’t think we’ll ever believe it.
“You see these things on the news but you never expect them to happen to you and when it does, it is hard. It really is hard.
“He was one of them, a jack of all trades. He was good at everything. He was a bright young referee in the soccer world and he would have made it to the top, there’s no doubt about that.
“What I liked about Joel is some people are very naturally gifted at things whereas Joel wasn’t but he made up for that with effort and he got to the top through the amount of effort he put into it.”
Owen, who saw his three relatives murdered, was also injured in the attack, after a bullet nicked his shoulder and fatally hit one of his relatives. Police found him bravely trying to help a woman with a bullet wound to her back.
Connor is not surprised to hear he acted so selflessly: “I do believe that because that’s the way the family have been brought up, to help others and then forget about yourself, to always put others first. I believe that that is what actually happened.
“He was a couple of years younger than me at school and I feel for him, I really do.
“I spoke to a family member of his yesterday, he said he hasn’t said a word. He’s just traumatised and I feel for him so much.”
Connor says the deaths of Joel, Adrian and Patrick will leave a deep scar in their GAA Club: “Deep down in the club, it will be a very painful time for people.”
The club will honour their departed friend with the charity work he was known to get involved with: “We’re hoping as a team, James Connolly’s, to carry that on in Joel’s name. It’s something that Joel always wanted to do and in his honour, I think we should carry it on for him.”
The club said in a statement: “James Connollys GFC is devastated to learn of the death of one of our players, Joel Richards, during the horrific attack in Tunisia.
“Joel was an exceptionally talented footballer, who represented both club and county with conviction on numerous occasions.
“Details of his funeral arrangements will follow; our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time. If there is anything we can do as a club for the family at this time, please contact us.”
The family can contact club manager Derek Heffernan or PRO Sean Davis.
Irish Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall expressed his sadness at the news through Twitter: “Sad to learn that one of those killed in Tunisia was Joel Richards, who played Gaelic Football for the James Connolly club in Birmingham,” he wrote on Twitter.