Ireland poorer for playwright's death, mourners told

The extinction of playwright and columnist Hugh Leonard’s dazzling energy has left Ireland a poorer place, his funeral heard today.

The extinction of playwright and columnist Hugh Leonard’s dazzling energy has left Ireland a poorer place, his funeral heard today.

Actors, theatre directors and politicians were among the mourners who filled the Church of the Assumption in Dalkey, Co Dublin, to bid a final farewell to the writer.

Patrick Mason, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre, said Leonard’s life was transformed after watching a production of Sean O’Casey’s 'The Plough and the Stars', in the 1950s.

The Abbey Theatre production lit a fire underneath the then civil servant and he was never again content to sit and watch, but had to be passionately involved, the mourners were told.

Born John Keyes Byrne in 1926, and known to his friends as Jack, the writer died at his home in Dalkey, last Thursday after a long illness.

It was the private pain, grief and tumult of Jack Byrne that informed the public work of Hugh Leonard, said Mason.

But his writing was infused with healing and humanising words, delivered through a torrent of wit, sarcasm and humour.

His plays would expose the reader to their own absurdities, that prevented them from living a full life.

Leonard admired George Bernard Shaw and Charles Dickens, and like them, he also used his talent to expose political and moral chicanery, said Mason.

And as one of the most politically engaged writers of his generation, he won many friends and many enemies.

But for all his combative energy, he was fair, sensitive and generous, and any remaining acrimony with former friends and colleagues would fade with time.

What would not fade though was his reputation.

“He has earned his rest and his reputation is assured,” said Mason. “Sleep well now and sweet dreams.”

Among the gifts offered during the Funeral Mass were Laurel and Hardy films, Leonard’s Tony award which he won in 1977 for one of his most famous plays, 'Da', and the fountain pen he used for writing.

Monsignor Paddy Finn, said Leonard was a proud and sensitive man, and that he wanted to reconcile with friends he had fallen out with before he died.

“If anybody here in the church now falls into that category, utter words of reconciliation to yourself,” he said.

Mgr Finn recalled Leonard’s love of France, and in particular his recollections of cruising on a boat along the tree-canopied Canal du Midi.

“Allez, allez, go Jack, sail on and enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven,” he said, as the congregation applauded.

The mourners were led by Leonard’s daughter Danielle.

Actors David Kelly, Patrick Bergin and Pauline McLynn turned out to pay their respects, along with Gate Theatre director Michael Colgan and John O’Shea, director of aid agency Goal.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and Fine Gael TD Sean Barrett were among the mourners, while President Mary McAleese was represented by Captain Martin Larkin.

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