Mourners at the requiem Mass of Dr O’Connell, who died last Friday aged 87, heard of his extensive career as both a medical doctor and politician, which saw him elected at various stages for Labour, Fianna Fáil, and as an independent, as well as being founder of the Irish Medical Times.
In his homily, Fr Conor Harper SJ said Dr O’Connell was a man of many parts who had always shown compassion for the poor and the weak. The priest said Dr O’Connell had been hugely affected by the death of his sister from TB when she was 16, which propelled him to being a man of action.
“He had fierce indignation about anyone who treated the poor badly,” said Fr Harper.
Dr O’Connell’s coffin was draped in the Tricolour on which was placed a copy of the Bible, which he treasured, said Fr Harper.
In a tribute, Gareth O’Connell said his grandfather had applied his medical and business experience to improve the lives of others. He reminded the congregation that his grandfather, who had been born in a Dublin tenement in the 1920s, refused to accept that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was the exclusive domain of the wealthy classes. “He had a tireless work ethic” and was someone who “put patients above profit”.
Mr O’Connell said his grandfather was “never an aspirational politician, but an issues man” who recognised his limitations. He noted Dr O’Connell had fulfilled his lifetime’s ambition in 1992, when being appointed health minister. The congregation heard his decisions reflected changes in society and he was responsible for enshrining patients’ rights in legislation.
Among those attending the funeral at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook was President Michael D Higgins, while Taoiseach Enda Kenny was represented by his aide-de-camp Cmdt Michael Treacy.
Others in attendance included Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and TDs Tim Dooley, Finian McGrath, and Eric Byrne.
En route to Glasnevin Cemetery, the cortege passed Leinster House, where the Tricolour flew at half mast in Dr O’Connell’s honour.