Friends, family, stars, and imitators bid final farewell to Bill O’Herlihy

Family man, businessman, broadcaster, committed member of Church, community, and golf club, and generous source of memorable mimicry — apres Bill there is a huge hole to fill.

Those who knew Bill O’Herlihy mainly as ringmaster to the occasional anarchy of RTÉ’s soccer panel saw only one side of a very diverse man who led a very full life.

“You all know the public side to my dad,” said elder daughter Jill.

She and sister Sally wanted to give an insight into their off-duty hero.

This was the man who relished in inventing bedtime stories and nicknames, and who bawled crying the day his firstborn left home even though he would see her the next morning at work.

He loved cricket, yawned at tennis, thought jelly snakes made suitable breakfast fare for his beloved grandchildren, and would devour a bowl of jelly, custard, and ice-cream, especially if it had creamed rice on top.

Ever excited by travel and new experiences, he was nonetheless baffled by technology until he learned to text. He subsequently took to bombarding Ronan O’Gara with messages because the Munster and Ireland player happened to be the first sports star whose number he got his hands on.

“He was the most caring, loyal, and wonderful husband, he was the most brilliant grandad, and not only was he the best dad, he was really our best friend,” said Sally, adding that the family was in a “tornado of grief”.

“We are utterly shocked and totally heartbroken but overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from people we know and people we don’t.”

Their words were heard by hundreds who gathered in the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock, Co Dublin, to say their farewells after a week also spent trying to absorb the shock of Bill’s sudden passing.

Just four weeks ago the 76-year-old was in his native city, delighted to receive a Spirit of Cork Award. “I couldn’t imagine him not being from Cork. It was so much a part of his life,” his brother Peter told the congregation.

And just hours before he died in his sleep, he had enjoyed attending the Irish Film and Television Awards in his capacity as chairman of the Irish Film Board.

“For him, it was a great way to go,” said celebrant Fr Tom O’Keeffe, a fellow Corkman and stalwart of Foxrock Golf Club where he and Bill battled valiantly together “to keep our Cork accents and our handicap under 20”.

But it was very hard on the family, Fr O’Keeffe said, offering his condolences to Bill’s wife Hilary and their daughters; his sons-in-law Johnny Ryan and Paddy Conlon; grandchildren Martha, Bill, Jack, Isla, and Faye; and brothers, Jack, David, and Peter.

Bill was a great light in so many lives, he said, “banishing darkness by the light of his sheer goodness, his generosity, his infectious joy, and his integrity”.

His religious faith was evident in all his doings, he added, as far back as the Seven Days programme that exposed illegal moneylending and ended his career in current affairs.

“He was prepared to take the rap and stand his ground with courage and integrity when people in high places were often indifferent,” Fr O’Keeffe said.

And then there was The Panel, that “very dysfunctional family” to which Bill also belonged with “his three amigos that he loved to provoke and found hard to discipline at times”.

The amigos reunited yesterday, Eamon Dunphy, Liam Brady, and John Giles putting their shoulders to Bill’s coffin as he had so often carried them — and the country — through the highs, lows, and hysterics of Ireland’s fluctuating footballing fortunes.

The funeral was attended by President Michael D Higgins and the Taoiseach was represented by his aide de camp, Commandant Kieran Carey. Political figures included Arts Minister Heather Humphreys, MEP and former GAA president Seán Kelly, former minister Mary Hanafin, and former Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

Bill’s alter ego Risteard Cooper was present with his Apres Match colleague Gary Cooke and familiar faces from RTÉ Sports including Des Cahill, Peter Collins, Claire McNamara, Evanne Ni Chuilinn, Marty Morrissey, Tracy Piggott, and Ryle Nugent.

Other past and present RTÉ stars included Miriam O’Callaghan, Bláthnaid Ni Chofaigh, and Olivia Tracey. Pundits Brent Pope, George Hook, and Tony Ward also attended, as did former Republic of Ireland managers Eoin Hand and Brian Kerr.

Bill was laid to rest in Shanganagh Cemetery following which mourners were invited to a gathering in his memory at Foxrock Golf Club.

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