Prayer candles burned brightly in the church where Maeve Binchy’s funeral took place yesterday — a poignant reminder of the writer’s first book, Light a Penny Candle.
They had been lit by some of the hundreds of people who packed the Church of the Assumption in Dalkey, Co Dublin, to say a fond farewell to a much-loved author.
The ceremony was a simple affair, in keeping with Binchy’s wishes, with Mass concelebrated by former Dalkey parish priest Fr John McDonagh and visiting priest Fr William Stuart.
Her husband, Gordon Snell, her brother William and sister Joan, were joined by a host of figures from the arts, journalism and politics.
Well-known figures who attended included actors Brenda Fricker and Eamonn Morrissey, journalist Nell McCafferty, author Cathy Kelly and RTÉ’s Pat Kenny and Marian Finucane.
Also among the mourners were President Michael D Higgins’s aide-de-camp, Col Brendan McAndrew, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s aide-de-camp, Comdt Michael Treacy.
A number of the author’s former colleagues from the Irish Times, including Mary Maher and Renagh Holohan, were also present.
A hall in the nearby Heritage Centre had been prepared to allow people hear the Mass but it remained less than half full, with people preferring to stand in the church doorways for the hour-long service.
After working as a teacher and then a journalist, Binchy published her first book, Light a Penny Candle in 1982.
Binchy, one of Ireland’s best-selling authors who died on Monday at the age of 72, sold 42m books worldwide during her 30-year career.
Although Binchy’s husband was very keen there would be no flowers at the funeral, an exception was made for a spray of roses on her coffin.
The flowers, named Rosa Gordon Snell, were a special birthday present to her beloved husband.
In his homily, Fr Stuart, said everyone remembered Binchy’s warm personality.
“One of the hallmarks of Maeve Binchy was her generosity — her generosity of time, of talent, and of her resources,” he said.
Fr Stuart said the Church had benefited from a generous contribution from Binchy, who instructed that the money could be spent on anything except statues and holy pictures.
He said Binchy was not a religious person in the traditional sense. “Maeve came from the tradition of the maji — she was a searcher; she was a seeker of the Divine, but it eluded her,” he said.
In a letter to Fr McDonagh, she had written that she knew that if he was alive when she died, he would dispatch her with “dignity and without hypocrisy in a faith which I envy and would love to share”.
He said Binchy died not having come to know God, but he would like to think that, as she opened her eyes to the next world, she was surprised by God’s face.
“But I also suspect that, Maeve being Maeve, she did not stay surprised for too long. And, having got her bearings on heaven, she began to talk to the Almighty and is still talking to the Almighty for a very long time.
“Lord, you called her, you can listen to her,” he concluded to loud applause.
The first reading was read by Kate Binchy, a cousin of Binchy and an actor. Friend and neighbour Frank Kelly read a psalm, while her brother read the second reading.
Binchy’s love of traditional music was reflected by performances by Liam Óg Ó Flynn, Shaun Davey, Paddy Glackin, and Rita Connolly.
The theme from The Brendan Voyage was played following the homily. It had been specially selected by Binchy, who also chose it on Desert Island Discs.
Her coffin was taken from the church to the strains of Mo Ghile Mear — just as the many prayer candles fronting the altar began to burn out.
Later in the day, relatives and friends attended a private cremation ceremony.
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