Former Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald woke in “his final agony” to see the culmination of his work when the Queen met President Mary McAleese on Irish soil, his state funeral heard today.
Lifelong friend Fr Enda McDonagh recalled the poignant moment to hundreds mourning the 85-year-old, remembered for making a lasting contribution to peace between Ireland and Britain.
The former Fine Gael leader who helped negotiate the Anglo-Irish Agreement died just hours after the Queen made an historic reconciliation speech in Dublin Castle, made possible by the 1985 accord.
“By some miracle of insight ... he woke up in his final agony, in a way, to see the Queen and President on the television on Tuesday night, 36 hours before he died,” Fr McDonagh said.
“It was the culmination of what he had, for so long, strove.
“We are grateful for that.”
Tributes poured in for the man known as Garret the Good following his death last Thursday morning after a short illness.
The 85-year-old politician, journalist and economist led two governments in the 1980s.
Mrs McAleese, who hosted last week’s landmark address during the Queen’s four day visit to the Republic, said Mr FitzGerald’s crowning achievement was the Anglo-Irish treaty with Margaret Thatcher, which paved the way for the Good Friday Agreement.
The Queen also offered her personal sympathies, describing the former leader as a true statesman.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President McAleese joined hundreds at the Sacred Heart Church in south Dublin to hear the former Fine Gael leader praised for his intellect, compassion, and love for his family.
Five former Taoisigh – Liam Cosgrave, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen – were also joined by the North's First Minister Martin McGuinness, former SDLP leader John Hume and Britain’s ambassador to Ireland Julian King.
Mr FitzGerald’s coffin, draped simply in the tricolour with a bible and cross atop, lay at the foot of the altar.
Fr McDonagh painted Dr FitzGerald as a towering intellect and committed public servant, but also a gregarious, loving family man, who, humorously, was a fussy eater.
The cleric reminded mourners that it was while Mr FitzGerald was Foreign Affairs Minister in the 1970s that Irish Aid, the Government’s assistance programme to developing countries, was established.
“He referred frequently to the obligations of the richer countries, including Ireland, to promote effectively a more equitable, just, and peaceful form of nations,” Fr McDonagh said.
Mr FitzGerald was also known for his hospitality and love of parties, Fr McDonagh said, but he was “pernickety” about his food.
“Mushy peas were always high on the menu,” he quipped.
The church was too packed to accommodate everyone, leaving others braving persistent downpours to watch the simple, dignified service outside on a large screen.
His son Mark, of the leading estate agent firm Sherry FitzGerald, said his father’s love of numbers and statistics stayed with him right to the end.
“Like when he asked for the latest Exchequer figures when dealing with respiratory failure,” he said.
In a thanksgiving which ran through virtually all the organs of the state, he said his father had worked for a pluralist and peaceful Ireland.
He added: “You don’t need me to tell you he was different. He was fun, he was funny.
“On Easter Sunday he told some of the younger granddaughters when they asked him why their grandmother Joan had a fear of flying that it possibly had something to do with the fact that he used to read her the near miss reports (from Aer Lingus) in bed.
“He built sandcastles, made wonderful pancakes and has been the only person allowed on a Ryanair flight without photo identification.”
Son John, an economist with the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), drew laughter from the congregation as he thanked staff at the Central Statistics Office for persevering with his father’s requests for information.
“For over half a century you have enthralled our father and provided much to stimulate him. He was your biggest fan and he probably drove you mad,” he said.
Daughter Mary, an artist who lived near him all their life, said the family have been overwhelmed and overpowered by the wealth of support they have received since his death.
“We want to thank our beloved father himself for his love and compassion,” she said, holding back tears.
“For showing us how to be a good citizen, a good parent and a good father. Thank-you.”
Flowers from the gardens of Garret’s three children were brought to the altar as gifts, along with a copy of his autobiography Just Garret and a copy of Studies, the quarterly review journal of the Jesuits to which Mr FitzGerald regularly contributed.
His grandchildren Reachbha and Laoise sang throughout the service, while Mr Kenny did a reading and former president Mary Robinson was among those who recited the Prayers of the Faithful.
As his coffin was brought from the church draped in the tricolour by Military Police, the crowd burst into spontaneous applause.
His coffin was escorted by 18 army motorcycle outriders to Shanganagh cemetery, where he was buried alongside his beloved late wife Joan, who died in 1999, with a 106-strong guard of honour.