The skies over Shanganagh darkened and began unleashing buckets of rain an hour before Albert Reynolds’ funeral cortege arrived at the cemetery.
It was as if this was a day not just for a state funeral and traditional family send-off, but one where ancient superstition might appropriately be invoked. The heavens above were keening over the mortal remains of a man who had left his mark on life.
The intensity of the downpour quickened as word came through that the cortege was en route.
Yet, despite the conditions, a steady stream of civilians, quite obviously unattached to the official party, began filing through the cemetery gates.
Many of an older vintage, these men and women opened up umbrellas and took up position to pay their respects. Sure, they were outnumbered by the military and media personnel, but the appearance of so many bore testimony to the esteem in which the deceased was held.
The cortege finally arrived at 3pm, appropriately late for an Irish funeral, yet the state occasion ensured it was only by half an hour. The Army Number One band led the cortege in through a route-lining guard of 105 soldiers from the Seventh Infantry battalion based at Cathal Brugha Barracks, the slow beat of the drum echoing across the sheets of rain.
One by one, the main dignitaries, President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, and Chief Justice Susan Denham to the fore, took their positions and waited. On the fringes, some of Mr Reynolds’ close associates in the Fianna Fáil party, including Michael Woods and Seán Fleming, ensured they had a front-row view of the departure of their former colleague and friend.
The pomp of a state funeral makes no concession to atrocious conditions. The removal of the Tricolour, which had draped the coffin, was slow, as the officer methodically folded the flag, slowly, deliberately, as befitting the solemnity of the occasion.
And then the flag was handed over to Kathleen Reynolds before the military retreated and graveyard staff moved in to demonstrate that this was also a normal family occasion.
However, there was one more gesture from the State. After prayers, as the family moved forward with their flowers, shots rang out across the graveyard in honour of the departed man.
Still, the skies refused to relent, the rain continuing to beat down as mourners drifted away, and the military retreated to pack up and leave.
And then, once more, the Reynolds and their nearest and dearest were once again another family, left to deal with their bereavement and loss, to mourn the passing of a loved one, who was quite obviously the focus of so much of their love.
During his time on earth, he never once regretted risking all for peace. And if those risks were not taken, more people would be killing each other to this day.
This was some of the praise for Albert Reynolds as the former taoiseach, businessman, father, and husband was laid to rest.
Superstition says that if rain falls on a funeral procession, the deceased will go to heaven. Buckets of it poured down on Donnybrook, Dublin, as family, friends, and dignitaries gathered to bid Albert the Peacemaker farewell.
There were claps and laughter, tears and prayers, memories and song. It was a fitting funeral for the Longford man who in his life had gone from being a CIÉ clerk to a showband promoter to running the country.
As the bells of the Church of the Sacred Heart tolled, celebrant Fr Brian D’Arcy welcomed everyone in the packed pews like it was an old friend’s frontroom.
“Make yourself at home, sit down, and relax,” the Fermanagh priest told mourners including leaders past and present.
An eclectic but appropriate set of gifts were then carried to the altar by some of Mr Reynolds’ 12 grandchildren. Some evoked soft laughter and reminders of the ordinary man. Many symbolised important moments in Mr Reynolds’ long political and business life.
These included a book of cloakroom tickets from a ballroom, a 1963 CIÉ carriage ticket, a telephone, a Longford News newspaper section, a deck of cards, a sliotar, a tin of C&D dog food, a racing card and, most notably, Mr Reynolds’ own copy of the Downing Street Declaration.
Fr D’Arcy, who knew Mr Reynolds for 50 years, reminded people they were there to honour the life of someone who had done the State some service. “During his time on earth, Albert never once regretted risking everything he had for peace. Though, like many others, he never knew if his efforts were really appreciated. He does now,” the priest said in the homily.
Mr Reynolds had “tested waters” in the peace process long before he was taoiseach, mourners were told. He had also been interested in Northern politics as a showband promoter.
On the night he was made taoiseach in 1992, he made a promise to Fr D’Arcy: “He said, ‘Brian, before I leave this office I’ll have peace in the North.’ That was his promise on the day he became taoiseach. And he did. For him, peace was the only battle worth waging.”
He had taken “personal and political” risks, the priest recounted. But debts of gratitude were also owed to John Major, John Hume, Gerry Adams, Fr Alec Reid, and others who were unfairly criticised for trying to bring peace, it was added.
“We also know that if Albert had not taken those risks for peace that in all probability, we’d still be killing one another to this day and in the name of what,” added Fr D’Arcy.
During his final years, his family had cared for him with “dignity and compassion”, mourners were told. His wife Kathleen had also shown great courage. “In the past few days it was really inspiring to see the family preparing to bury not a politician, not a businessman, but a dad. Kathleen put it very succinctly, as she always does — [saying] ‘I’ve done all I can for him now. Let ye get on with the preparations and let me get on with my rosary.’”
Five of Mr Reynolds’ seven children said prayers of the faithful, leaving touching memories of their father and words of gratitude for medical staff.
His eldest son, Philip, gave the eulogy and told the church his father had been an “innately good man”. Mr Reynolds, sometimes scoffed at for being a ‘one-page man’, had in fact an amazing ability to keep things simple, he said.
He was a dealer but a man with a “deep-rooted goodness”, who in the end had faced a cruel illness, his son explained to mourners.
Few will have walked away from yesterday’s Mass without taking some comforting message or image.
Music was provided by showband greats such as Red Hurley and Paddy Cole, while the dulcet voices of Dublin’s Palestrina Choir also lent an ethereal and graceful feel to the day.
Indeed, the ceremony reminded all of the two Alberts. This was a final farewell to Albert the family man and entertainer, but also Albert the statesman and peacemaker.
It was a day the nation’s great came in their numbers to honour a former Taoiseach remembered for his role in the peace process. The state funeral for Albert Reynolds certainly was a roll call of the highest dignitaries in the land as well as some from abroad.
Politicians, the judiciary and state figures came to pay their respects while close friends, associates and family members came to say farewell.
Mourners began arriving from 10am as the rain poured down outside the Donnybrook church in Dublin.
Chief among the dignitaries were President Michael D Higgins, former President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former Taoisigh Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, John Bruton and Liam Cosgrave as well as Tánaiste Joan Burton. Other members of the Cabinet were also present.
Former British prime minister John Major also attended the Mass. When thanked by Mass celebrant Fr Brian D’Arcy for coming, he candidly replied “sure where else would I be on this day”.
A message of condolence was also sent by telegram from Pope Francis.
“Recalling with gratitude the late Taoiseach’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland, his Holiness prays for the eternal repose of his soul,” the message read.
Other visiting dignitaries included Northern Ireland’s secretary of state Theresa Villiers and the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell.
Acting Garda Commissioner Noirín O’Sullivan, members of the judiciary, senior army personnel, members of the diplomatic corps, secretaries general and councillors also attended the ceremony.
Other attendees included chief justice Susan Denham and former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness.
Also present were EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan Quinn, SDLP founder John Hume, the North’s deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin.
A number of Mr Reynolds’ former Cabinet colleagues from his two terms as Taoiseach in the 1990s also came to the funeral. These included former tánaiste Dick Spring, former EU commissioners Padraig Flynn and Charlie McCreevy, and former ministers David Andrews and Michael Woods.
Other former Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats ministers at the church included Dermot Ahern, Noel Dempsey, Mary O’Rourke, Michael Smith Pat Carey, Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin, Pat The Cope Gallagher, Sean Haughey, John Moloney, Liz O’Donnell and Tom Parlon.
Department of the Taoiseach secretary general Martin Fraser, his predecessor Dermot McCarthy and Áras an Uachtaráin secretary general Art O’Leary were also at the ceremony.
A number of business and well-known individuals joined mourners. These included billionaire racehorse owner JP McManus, beef baron Larry Goodman, fashion designer Louise Kennedy, former newscaster Anne Doyle, jockey Charlie Swan and entrepreneur John Reynolds — a nephew of Mr Reynolds.
Albert Reynolds’ role as a peacemaker began in secret — years before he was elected taoiseach.
The late leader’s funeral heard that letters from undisclosed sources were hidden at the Passionist Monastery in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh — the Graan — marked only with his name.
Fr Brian D’Arcy, a friend of Mr Reynolds for 50 years, told mourners he brought the notes privately to the future taoiseach’s house and returned with replies which were collected privately from The Graan.
“His motives were pure,” the priest said.
Fr D’Arcy told mourners at the funeral in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, south Dublin, that Mr Reynolds made a vow on the night he was elected taoiseach in 1992 that he would bring peace to Northern Ireland by the time he left office.
The following year he had signed the Downing Street Declaration with prime minister John Major which carried a statement that Britain would not stand in the way of a united Ireland if a majority of people in the North wanted it.
This work is credited with leading directly to the first Provisional IRA ceasefire in 1994.
Fr D’Arcy said that Mr Reynolds should be remembered in the same breath as other leading figures of the peace process.
In a moving tribute while celebrating the funeral Mass, the priest put his lifelong friend in the same bracket as former nationalist SDLP leader and Nobel Prize winner John Hume, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and the late Father Alec Reid, the Redemptorist priest based at Clonard in west Belfast who acted as an intermediary in the peace process.
Fr D’Arcy said Mr Reynolds always had a sincere interest in Northern Ireland.
“Albert thought deeply about violence.
“He knew that peace is more than absence of war, but he knew that peace could not take root until the violence stops,” he said.
“For him, peace was the only battle worth waging.
“He knew that peace was not achieved only by talking to your friends, you must talk to your enemies and make peace with them.”
Fr D’Arcy added: “He took personal and political risks but all he was doing was giving peace a chance.”
The priest told mourners the funeral should be used to remember the almost 4,000 deaths claimed by the Troubles and the countless lives Mr Reynolds’ work helped save.
Mr Reynolds stepped down as taoiseach in 1994, but the groundwork he began in talks with Mr Hume and Mr Adams, and in his relationship with Hume, which were strong up until his death, is widely regarded as leading to the end of political violence in the North.
Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds was laid to rest after a state funeral with full military honours.
Figures from the worlds of politics, business and entertainment gathered for the funeral Mass at the Sacred Heart church in Donnybrook, where they heard Fr Brian D’Arcy describe Mr Reynolds as a “man of peace”.
Among the large congregation were President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the Chief Justice Susan Denham and scores of former and serving politicians, particularly from Mr Reynolds’ Fianna Fáil party.
Former British prime minister John Major, who worked closely with Mr Reynolds to create the fledging peace process, was also in attendance.
Mr Major described Mr Reynolds as “a remarkable friend”.
A telegram of condolence from Pope Francis was read out at the Mass by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. The pontiff recalled “with gratitude the late taoiseach’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland”.
Albert Reynolds’ role in the peace process was a constant theme throughout the funeral Mass.
Chief celebrant Fr D’Arcy said that contrary to some reports, his interest in the North long pre-dated his time as taoiseach.
“Albert thought deeply about violence. He knew peace is more than absence of war but he knew that peace could not take root until the violence stops,” Fr D’Arcy said.
“For him peace was the only battle worth waging. He knew that peace was not achieved only by talking to your friends, you must talk to your enemies and make peace with them.”
Philip Reynolds referenced his father’s crowning political achievement. “Few of us will ever bend the course of history, but our collective efforts can make this a better place. How successful he was in his life is for others to judge. To us it doesn’t matter, he was just simply brilliant,” he said.
Mr Reynolds’ daughter Miriam told the congregation that the pursuit of peace had been difficult and at times her father had been shunned and vilified.