Politics ‘excited his every neuron, permeated his every fibre’

HE was a man with towering intellect, who believed in duty, honour to his country and devotion to his family.

These were some of the tributes paid to the late Brian Lenihan yesterday as his family and friends attended his funeral Mass.

Leaders and representatives from across the political divide, members of the judiciary and former taoisigh crowded into the small St Mochta’s Church in Porterstown, Dublin.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, President Mary McAleese and Chief Justice John Murray were among the chief mourners who joined relatives at the Mass for the former Fianna Fáil deputy leader.

The 52-year-old’s family entered the chapel to rounds of applause, a tribute to their courage, while Mr Lenihan’s coffin lay inside draped in the Tricolour.

Family friend Fr Eugene Kennedy said the former finance minister had a wealth of gifts which he used for the benefit of others, including those in his constituency.

“On behalf of gnáthmhuintir Átha Cliath a cúig déag — Dublin 15 — we are deeply indebted to a man who always had care and concern for us.”

Fr Kennedy said Mr Lenihan had helped establish the local St Francis Hospice but it was a cruel irony that the dying politician had been among its first home-care patients.

Just a few days before his death, Mr Lenihan told Fr Kennedy that he was not worried about dying but that his sole concern was for his wife Patricia and his children, Claire and Tom.

Former attorney general Paul Gallagher delivered the eulogy, remarking that his late friend who had met an untimely death was a master of all talents, an inspiration to all and a great patriot.

Commenting on Mr Lenihan’s take-up of politics rather than a law career after being first elected in 1996, he added: “He decided to eschew private gain and devote himself unceasingly and constantly to public service. He did it with such distinction, with such diligence and dedication that he achieved great things.”

The barrister said his late friend had “loved Fianna Fáil” and politics “excited his every neuron, it permeated his every fibre”.

Mr Gallagher said that the three-time minister had three qualities which defined him: duty, honour to country and his utter devotion to his family.

His family were as essential to him as his “towering intellect, as his great magnanimity and as his great humanity,” he said.

He said that as finance minister Mr Lenihan had been faced with huge challenges and had to make quick but crucial decisions. He had displayed great strength doing so during his battle with pancreatic cancer, he added.

Mr Gallagher joked that one of his friend’s only faults was his tendency to rob pens and biscuits from cabinet colleagues at meetings.

When asked how he put up with public criticism, his friend would reply “that’s politics, that’s life”, he said.

Mr Gallagher recounted a phone conversation when the finance minister called from Baldonnel, just before flying to Brussels to finalise the bailout for Ireland.

“He was calm, collected and full of courage and he was a man facing certainly one of the most difficult challenges ever faced by any representative of the Irish people.”

Most of the Cabinet attended yesterday’s funeral as did former taoisigh Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern and Liam Cosgrave.

Presidential hopefuls David Norris and Sean Gallagher were also present.

Former FF TDs and ministers were also there including Mary Coughlan, Dermot Ahern, Sean Haughey, Mary Hanafin, Pat Carey, Tom Kitt, Dick Roche, Willie O’Dea, Éamon Ó Cuív and party leader Micheál Martin.

Others who attended included Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, businessman Denis O’Brien, former government press secretary PJ Mara, EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, newly-elected Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and his predecessor John Gormley, SIPTU boss Jack O’Connor, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and the North’s First Minister Martin McGuinness and its Finance Minister Sammy Wilson.

Readings were delivered by Rory Montgomery, Ireland’s EU ambassador, and David Lowe, both former college friends of Mr Lenihan’s.

His uncle Dr Conor Devine, sister Anita, brothers Conor and Paul and friend and consultant Frank Chambers said prayers of the faithful.

Following the Mass, Defence Force members carried out Mr Lenihan’s coffin and his family held a private burial at St David’s Church Graveyard, Kilsallaghan.

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