For a woman of words there was no send-off more fitting

A WOMAN of words could have wanted no better send-off than Nuala O’Faolain received.

The novelist, journalist and memoirist was to be cremated, not interred in the earth, so fittingly she was buried in words instead.

They poured from the lips of heartsore friends, embraced the pages of condolence books and bounced around the church walls, provoking laughter and prompting tears as they went.

Words like spirit, gallant, vitality, brilliance, honesty, love and friend danced around her until the end, telling the story of the author as she so often used them to create her own tales.

Her long-time friend, broadcaster Marian Finucane, put order on them in a tribute to the pal who chose to reveal her imminent death from cancer on Finucane’s radio show last month.

“She was a woman of wit and grace, a woman of brilliance and humour, and a steadfast friend,” said Finucane, recalling how Nuala had “minded her” when her own little daughter, Sinéad, was dying 17 years ago.

When it came to Nuala’s turn to face death, she approached it with an honest anger, bluntly telling how all the light had gone from her life, only for thousands of listeners to hail her a hero.

“I had no idea, nor had she, what a profound spiritual effect that interview would have on so many others. It was like a wall of love and goodness coming at her.”

Finucane raised laughter when she related why Nuala packed her bags for the United States. “Being a middle-aged woman in a country prone to ageism and sexism, she thought if she went to New York, apart from not being thin, you would be accepted for who you were and what you were.”

In New York, her writing flourished and after the pain of her break-up with long-time partner Nell McCafferty she found love again with American John Low-Beer.

Both were in the Church of the Visitation in Fairview on Dublin’s northside yesterday and heard of their importance in her life, as were her surviving brother and five sisters, whom Finucane saluted for accepting with grace the “ruthlessly truthful” accounts of their lives that Nuala relayed in her memoirs.

The congregation also heard that the writer, who left her wealth to the Friends in Ireland charity for Aids orphans in South Africa, knew great despair behind her feisty exterior.

Friend, Fr Enda McDonagh, said her personal pain enabled her to empathise in her writing with the excluded in Irish society. “Nuala knew where the hurt was,” he said.

Nuala O’Faolain died last Friday night aged 68 at the Blackrock Hospice in Dublin. Among those who attended her funeral were former arts minister, Michael D Higgins; writers Colm Tóibín and Dermot Bolger; and many colleagues and friends from the worlds of journalism and publishing.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen was represented by his aide-de-camp, Commandant Liam Drumgoole, and traditional airs were played by piper Liam O’Flynn and fiddler, Paddy Glackin. Nuala’s beloved black labrador, Mabel, also attended.

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