By Louise Walsh
Hundreds of mourners turned out in Co. Meath today for the funeral of one of Sinn Féin's key party figures, Joe Reilly.
The Navan man who was hugely popular cross-party during his 24 years as a Meath County Councillor died last Friday morning from a rare form of cancer.
Former Sinn Féin President and Louth TD Gerry Adams, who led the funeral procession, also said the graveside oration, after being asked by Joe during a recent visit by the duo to the Hill of Tara.
The 67-year old had also arranged for a local band Pilgrim Brothers to play the mourners out of the cemetery with their version of Monty Python's 'Always Look On the Bright Side of Life."
Others mourners included Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheal MacDonncha, Sinn Féin TDS Aengus O'Snodaigh, Dessie Ellis and Peadar Toibin as well as Meath County Council colleagues.
Among the tributes which poured in after his death were from Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald who said the party was 'heartbroken'.
A key player in Sinn Féin and close to the party leadership of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Joe was a member of the party ard comhairle and was part of the Sinn Féin negotiating team during talks on the formation of the Good Friday agreement.
During this time he visited No. 10 Downing Street a number of times and recently joked that after a meeting in Northern Ireland, the late Mo Mowlam told him he was wearing the 'sexiest socks' in the room.
He was invited onto the podium at last December's Árd Fheis by Gerry Adams during his own retirement speech and the Navan man was given a standing ovation.
Great crowd at Joe Reilly’s funeral in Navan this afternoon. Joe who organised everything made sure he sent everyone home with a smile on their faces. He gave the last word Pilgrim Street who sang “always look on the bright side of life”. pic.twitter.com/RIrc3nFBlk— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) June 4, 2018
After being caught with other IRA members with explosives in a house in Dublin's Donabate in 1975, he was sentenced to four years in prison, a sentence which was increased to ten years after a failed escape attempt during a court appearance.
He was elected onto Meath County Council in the 1994 local elections and topped the poll in the Navan Urban Council elections in 1999.
He went on to build the party in Meath, growing the number of elected Sinn Féin councillors from just one (himself) to eight at the last local elections.
He even made it to the polling booth to vote to repeal the eighth amendment saying afterwards: "It's the biggest transformation in Irish society for many years and I'm proud to be a part of that.
In a statement, Mary Lou McDonald said: "We are heartbroken at the loss of Joe Reilly. Joe was a tireless republican leader and an inspirational friend to so many. He was dearly loved and he will be greatly missed.
"He was a key member of the Sinn Féin negotiation team which brokered the Good Friday Agreement."
Long-time friend and Sinn Féin Louth TD Gerry Adams, who affectionately called Joe 'Roundy', spoke about his long frendship with Joe at the graveside and acknowledged how Joe had been always hugely popular across party divides.
"I have known Joe for many years. He was a good friend and a long-standing party member," he said in a statement after Joe's death
"Joe was a part of the Sinn Féin leadership which developed our peace strategy and participated in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
Meath Sinn Féin TD Peadar Toibin added: "Joe was a good friend who wouldn't shy away from telling you the truth. He was unique and it's fair to say they don't make Joe Reilly's anymore."
Local Fine Gael Minister for State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government Damien English was testament to the cross-party friendships saying: I am very saddened on the death of a true champion of Navan.
"As members of Meath County Council, we served together between 1999-2004.
Fianna Fáil TD for Meath West Shane Cassells added: "I served with Joey for 17 years on the council and he worked tirelessly and was a proud son of Navan."