St Kevin’s Church on Haddington Rd, close to Con’s home in the Dublin suburb of Portobello, was packed with friends and fans anxious to pay tribute to the gentle giant from Castleisland, Co Kerry, who has been widely hailed as one of Ireland’s finest sportswriters.
The 86-year-old, who died in St James Hospital last Saturday after a long illness, was renowned for his eloquent, descriptive powers which employed his vast literary knowledge to bring the most mundane of sports fixtures alive through his regular column in the Evening Press.
Aptly, the music played during the Communion ceremony was the folk song ‘A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday’.
In a moving tribute, his close friend, Ray Hennessy said his words to describe a man who was “a quintessential gentle man with exceptional personal talents” were inadequate but heartfelt.
“He was real, warm, sensitive, compassionate, and thoughtful. He was humorous and sometimes extremely funny. He was always civil and courteous with perfect manners. Above all he was immensely generous.”
He recalled his first impressions of his friend as Con’s intellect and extraordinary powers of observation. He was “a sculptor of words” who enjoyed a simple, modest lifestyle. He advice was regularly sought and freely given. A committed educator who was exceptionally shy.
Mr Hennessy praised the media for documenting Con’s life and contributions since his death with remarkable accuracy and adoration. He described how his friend always felt the arts and sport were “the heartbeat of humanity”.
Mr Hennessy spoke of the privilege of being Con’s friend and how he treasured their one-to-one conversations, which he regarded as a “third-level education”.
The congregation erupted into laughter as he observed that Con, if he could see the assembled mourners, would probably have remarked about realising “how the goat feels in Killorglin every year”.
Mr Hennessy said he would rather smile than shed a tear for Con in gratitude for his life and knowing him.
The journalist’s niece, Ann Houlihan, recalled her childhood memories of uncle “Connie” in his home in Reineen, Castleisland, and his innate shyness but also that he was “the gentlest of giants”.
Paraphrasing one of Con’s own famous quotes, she observed he was “neither gone, nor forgotten”.
The chief concelebrant of the requiem Mass, Fr Tom Stack, described the late writer as “this outstanding Irishman from Co Kerry”.
In his homily, Fr Stack spoke of how Con was steeped in his “creideamh dúchasach” (native beliefs) and how he understood and cherished what they meant.
The congregation heard the journalist and former teacher described as “this scholarly professional, this gentleman of exquisite and singular human; this man — the kindest of men”.
Music played during the ceremony included the traditional air ‘An Cuileann’ by musicians including John Sheahan of The Dubliners, and Jimmy Kelly, a brother of legendary singer Luke.
One of Con’s favourite poems — ‘When I Am Dead, My Dearest’, by Christina Rossetti — was read out during the prayers of the faithful, while his long-term partner, whom he described as his “friend-girl”, Harriet Duffin, said the knowledge that what Con imparted through his teaching years would always live on.
“Therefore Con will never die,” she said.
Chief mourners were Ms Duffin and Con’s sister-in-law Kathleen; nieces Sandra, Ann, and Patricia; nephew, Michael; and cousin, the renowned conductor Robert Houlihan.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny was represented by his aide-de-camp, Commandant Michael Treacy, and President Michael D Higgins by his aide-de-camp Col Brendan McAndrew.
Jimmy Deenihan, the arts minister, and Joan Burton, the social protection minister, were also present.
There was a large group of Con’s former colleagues from the Irish Press group including former Evening Press editor Seán Ward and former sports editor Tom O’Shea; and former Sunday Press editor Michael Keane.
Representatives from other newspapers included Irish Examiner sports editor Tony Leen, Irish Independent editor Gerry O’Regan, and Evening Herald editor Stephen Rea.
Among well-known personalities from the world of sport were commentator Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh; Kerry GAA footballer and manager Mick O’Dwyer; Dublin footballers Paddy Cullen and Jimmy Keaveney; GAA director general Páraic Duffy; former Tipperary hurler Nicholas English; and the former rugby international Donal Spring.
Others in attendance included poet Brendan Kennelly; publican Charlie Chawke; RTÉ newsreader Eileen Dunne; RTÉ chief news editor Ray Burke; the station’s political correspondent, David Davin-Power; and Liam Ahearne, owner of The Palace Bar.
Con’s coffin was carried out of the church by friends including Irish Examiner soccer correspondent Liam Mackey; Pat O’Mahony; former rugby international Hugo MacNeill; former Limerick hurler Ned Rea; former Ireland soccer international Niall Quinn; and Peter Roche.
The congregation broke into applause as Con’s coffin, which was draped in the Starry Plough and the blue and red striped jersey of Castleisland Rugby Club, left the church grounds in a hearse before cremation at Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross.
His ashes will be buried in his parents’ grave at Kilbannivene Cemetery outside Castleisland on Sept 7.
As his friend Ray Hennessy observed, Con is now on his way “to some little snug corner of that great pub in the sky”.