The light from a strong winter sun shone down on the funeral cortege as it arrived at the church. Behind the hearse walked Niall Tóibín’s immediate family, conveying the much-loved actor to the ritual gathering.
Inside the large cavernous church of St Paul of the Cross in Dublin’s Mount Argus, figures from the arts, broadcasting and politics mingled with neighbours, friends and relatives to welcome in the body of this much loved all-round entertainer.
Tóibín’s standing was acknowledged by the presence of Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, but also by the mayor of Cork, Cllr John Sheehan. The deceased man had once noted that he was not proud to be from Cork, but grateful. And the presence of the city’s first citizen was returning in kind the gratitude his native city felt towards him.
Later, Fr Brian Darcy would relate that Tóibín had always stated that the receipt of the Freedom of Cork in 2015 was the second greatest honour ever bestowed on him. The first was his marriage to his late wife, Judy.
And it was the long and strong marriage that he and Judy had which informed much of the proceedings. Fr Darcy remembered that seventeen years earlier in the same church that Judy’s funeral had taken place and at the time, he said, many thought that her widower wouldn’t be long for this world such was the bond that existed between them.
There was acknowledgement that it had been a bad year on the southside of Dublin for the entertainment world. Sonny Knowles, Brendan Grace and Gay Byrne had died in that period and now the world had also lost Niall Tóibín, although whether the latter would ever have considered himself a southside Dubliner is another matter.
In his homily, Fr Darcy touched on the many aspects of Tóibín’s life, including his interest in politics, social justice and the church. The priest recalled when the Mount Argus church had undergone a refurbishment in the 1980s, he’d asked Niall to do one of the readings at the mass to mark the reopening.
Told that the mass was two weeks hence, the actor said he wasn’t sure that he had enough time to prepare. On the appointed day, he did the reading with “incredible sincerity” to the extent, Fr Darcy recalled, that it moved the whole congregation.
Following it, then-Cardinal Tomas O'Fiach was supposed to give a sermon on the reading but he said that “after hearing the perfect reading today, I have nothing else to say.” One other anecdote Fr Darcy recalled was the occasion in which Tóibín was asked to open the Sliabh Russell Hotel in Cavan, the salubrious hostelry built by then-billionaire Sean Quinn.
The request was notable as Tóibín had made something of a career on the back of the reputation of Cavan people for being stingy. Darcy recalled that at the opening, Tóibín came out and stood on the stage in front of 1,400 people.
He looked around admiringly at the chandeliers, the wood panelling, the magnificent furnishings. He did this for well over a minute and then he said: “So this is what youse have been saving for”.
At the end of the mass, Niall’s son Sean gave the eulogy in which he recalled that his father once told him that actors rather than family members should give eulogies. Thus, the actor could be blamed for anything that went wrong as nobody likes actors. “But you’re an actor,” his son said to him. “I’m a star,” Niall Tóibín replied. And he was.
Following his funeral mass he was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery.