Michael Clifford: The private loss, the real loss, in the death of Marian Finucane

Michael Clifford: The private loss, the real loss, in the death of Marian Finucane

The private loss, the real loss, in the death of Marian Finucane could be glimpsed towards the end of her funeral mass in County Kildare today.

Since news filtered through last Thursday that she had departed, there has been copious testimony about the broadcaster’s contribution to the evolution of the modern society in this country.

Today her widowed husband, John Clarke, tried to explain what had been ripped from his life — not the woman whom the nation believed they knew, but the real person removed from the microphone.

Struggling to contain his emotion, he described a soul mate with whom he’d been in love for 40 years. He told of how somebody had described himself and his wife as “two 15-year-old adolescents who were addicted to each other, who forgot to grow up".

Marian had told him last month that she was going to retire, opening up new prairies of adventure for them.

“More time, more space, more places to visit and more books to read,” he told the congregation of around 600 in St Bridget’s Church in Kill.

“Sadly that is not going to happen,” he said.

His voice breaking he declared: “I find myself so powerless I don’t know what to do.”

He went on to recall something that had been said by a woman in an African township which he and Marian had visited recently. “The only thing I can give you are my tears,” the woman said. And, Mr Clarke added: “That is all I think I can do today.”

His words came at the conclusion of a funeral mass in setting that did justice to the occasion. St Brigid’s church is a fine nineteenth century building set in the middle of the sedate County Kildare village. The rain threatened in the hour before the midday mass, but ultimately it stayed dry and blustery.

Marian Finucane was presented with a rose named in her honour, Rosa 'Marian Finucane' by the team of The Garden Heaven Show in the RDS in 2005
Marian Finucane was presented with a rose named in her honour, Rosa 'Marian Finucane' by the team of The Garden Heaven Show in the RDS in 2005

Friends, colleagues and public figures began arriving, including retired politicians Alan Dukes and Pat Rabbitte, current politiicans Micheál Martin, Richard Bruton and Katherine Zappone. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in attendance also along with friends and colleagues from RTÉ, including Joe Duffy, Miriam O’Callaghan, Ryan Tubridy and Dave Fanning. And there were also local people among whom Marian and her family had lived for decades.

The coffin was carried into the church by family and friends including Jack Clarke. Inside, the chief celebrant was Marian’s first cousin, Monsignor Ciaran O’Carroll, rector of the Irish College in Rome.

Also in attendance was the Bishop Eamon Walsh,and Father Willie O’Bryne, the local parish priest.

News of Marian’s death, Monsignor O’Carroll said, “came as a dreadful shock".

"She was such an icon of Irish broadcasting and will always be remembered for her outstanding journalistic abilities, her keen intellect, warmth, wit, thoughtfulness, compassion and kindness."

He went on: “She had great empathy and sense of fairness and treated everyone with courtesy and respect.

A generous and determined woman, and a thoughtful and kind friend whose keen sense of humour enriched the lives of man, her charity work at home and abroad was simply outstanding.

The monsignor also touched on the private and public lives of the deceased woman:

“Thousands always enjoyed her programmes and she will be missed on the radio. Publicly the nation has lost a skilled broadcaster. Privately John has lost a soul partner, Jack a loving mother and Jenny a cherished mother-in-law.”

Jack preceded his father with his own eulogy, which he began by asking whether he could be heard at the back of the church.

“We were at a wedding last week, and mam was sending me smoke signals from the back because she couldn’t hear me,” he said.

He referred to the expected birth of Marian’s first grandchild in the coming months. His mother, he said was a “classy lady with soul” who had a “razor sharp mind”.

Afterwards, the coffin was carried from the church for a private burial.

Marian Finucane was conferred with an Honorary degree in Law at National University of Ireland, Galway in 2005. Picture: Ray Ryan
Marian Finucane was conferred with an Honorary degree in Law at National University of Ireland, Galway in 2005. Picture: Ray Ryan

In the day that was in it there was no escaping the news that broke early today that another broadcasting icon had passed away.

Larry Gogan was 81 and in ill health for some time, but his death, coming so soon after that of Marian and Gay Byrne resonated across an older generation for whom RTÉ had major significance in their lives.

All three had, in their own unique ways, made a major impact on culture and society at a time when the nation usually listened and watched as one. To that extent, a curtain has definitely been drawn down on an era over the last few months.

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