Laughter was the last thing expected at David Byrne’s funeral.
In the 10 days since his brutal murder, there had been shock, grief, fear, anger, more bloodshed, and the ever-tightening grip of tension. There was nothing to laugh about.
But then came the tales of the white rabbit and the joker in the leotard and the congregation couldn’t help themselves. Their chuckling rang out loudly across the compact church.
As a young lad David had a pet rabbit called Snowy that he walked around Crumlin on a lead and taught to come when called by name.
He went on holidays once and left the creature with neighbours who accidentally let it escape. Not wanting to upset the young David, they swiftly bought an identical one and hoped he wouldn’t notice the difference.
He puzzled over his pet’s sudden reluctance to go walkabout and was perplexed as to why it wouldn’t come when called but the game was up when Snowy the second was discovered to have small back spots on his ears where the original had none.
You couldn’t get much past David although it didn’t stop his friends trying. David was recalled in later life amusing himself at a house party by dressing himself in a ladies leotard and fur coat.
He promptly lost the next card game, earning himself the chore of going to the garage shop for cigarettes, but brazenly went dressed as he was, only to be arrested by two gardaí after his “friends” called in a report about a flasher on the forecourt.
David had the last laugh though. The guards didn’t detain him long but he was going to dine off that story for a lifetime.
That lifetime was to be far shorter than he could have predicted and what was left after the laughter were memories streaked by tears as his bereft partner, Kellie, and his large extended family gathered at the Church of St Nicholas of Myra to say their painful farewells.
Many aspects of his life were remembered in the elaborate floral displays arranged on the backs of three horse-drawn carts that followed the long line of cars, two hearses and 10 black limousines, that snaked their way through Dublin’s south inner city, accompanied by gardaí in squad cars, unmarked vehicles, a helicopter overhead and foot patrols at every junction.
Blossoms were shaped into a boxing ring, a blue BMW sports car, a pink motorbike, a packet of John Player Blue, his trademark tipple of vodka and blackcurrant, even the emblem from his favourite clothing range, Canada Goose.
Brother, son, cousin, nephew, best friend, my daddy — the flowers spelled out his life and the impact of his death.
In tribute, many of his closest friends and male family members wore matching black suits and ties teamed with blue shirts — David’s favourite colour — while many of the women among the mourners wore blue scarves or ribbons.
A bold blue ribbon tumbled from the long ringlets of the older of his two little girls, Daisy, as she watched her daddy’s similarly blue metal coffin carried into the church by nine of his closest circle.
In the handwritten cards, he was called by a nickname, Dots, or simply, “Mate”, and was assured he’d never be forgotten.
In the gifts brought to the altar were his boxing gloves, a cap and a photograph of him with Daisy and her little sister Dottie.
These were the aspects of David Byrne’s life that celebrant Fr Niall Coghlan wanted imprinted on the minds, not just of those who mourned him but all who mused upon his passing and the manner of his death.
“Suspend if you will for a moment all you have heard of gangland tit for tat because that objectifies,” he said. “Could David have been murdered if he was seen as fully human? If the killer had looked into his eyes and seen in their reflection the smiles of adoration of two daughters, Daisie and Dottie, could he have been murdered?
“Could he have been murdered if, looking at him, a movie was played of a partner, Kellie, in love with her man; a mother and father, Sadie and Jemmy, looking at their youngest child on the day he was born and wondering about the life ahead of him; brothers and sisters laughing and joking, rowing and making up?
“A grandmother, Maria, proud to welcome another of the next generation into the world; a family who affectionately knew him as a messer with a nickname from his mother, Happy Harry?
“The man who delighted all with his party piece of backflips across a dance floor, a man who loved boxing and was in training for a white collar charity boxing event. If that film was played could he have been murdered then?
“I don’t think so. Because he would have been seen not as an object of revenge and retaliation, a mere target, but a partner, father, son, brother, cousin, grandson, nephew. He would have been seen as a human being.”
The music chosen by his family seemed to emphasise the point. Hard Times, played by a lone piper as the cortege arrived; Forever Friend, sung in the church; You’ll Never Walk Alone, aired as the coffin departed, were all rich in simple sentiment, deeply felt.
As the crowd filed out of the church to follow the cortege to Mount Jerome cemetery for the burial, gardaí stood by, waiting to sweep the church for explosives as they had done prior to the ceremony.
It was a stark reminder that while this part of the proceedings had gone smoothly and David Byrne could be taken away with dignity to be buried, the fear, tension and grief caused by the latest escalation in gangland violence remained very much above ground.
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