Political elite gather as community mourns former Minister Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh, the former Agriculture Minister who was acclaimed as being equally at home in the parish hall or in the gilded buildings of Brussells, was laid to rest today.

Political elite gather as community mourns former Minister Joe Walsh

By Noel Baker in Clonakilty

Joe Walsh, the former Agriculture Minister who was acclaimed as being equally at home in the parish hall or in the gilded buildings of Brussels, was laid to rest today.

Europe's longest serving Agriculture Minister died last Sunday at the age of 71 following an illness.

The occasion saw Fianna Fáil figures past and present flock to Clonakilty in West Cork, with mourners told: "history will judge Joe extremely kindly".

The funeral Mass was a veritable who's who of recent political life, particularly the Fianna Fáil strand which Mr Walsh, from nearby Ahiohill, served alongside in Dáil Éireann from 1977 to 2007.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his successor, Brian Cowen attended the Requiem Mass, as did Joe Walsh's former Government colleagues Micheál Martin, Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin, John O'Donoghue, Tom Parlon, Noel Dempsey, Dermot Ahern, Martin Mansergh and Charlie McCreevy, long time Fine Gael TD in West Cork, Jim O'Keeffe, and others from far and wide.

The Presidential aide de camp, Col Brendan McAndrew and Comdt Kieran Carey, for the Taoiseach, were also present.

The blue lined seating of Dáil Éireann had now been transposed to the red cushioned pews in Walsh's local church.

Brian Cowen said Walsh had "common sense", that he was "independent minded, with strong views".

"I've heard him described as a country gentleman - there was a bit more to him than that," Mr Cowen said. "He was a tough man.

"He was a tremendous Minister for Agriculture," he said, adding of his former colleague's love of horses: "He was a great man to meet after a race, like most fishermen - he always got the fish the day you weren't there.

"He was a man with a bit of weight. He was a sound man."

Current party leader, Micheál Martin, said Joe Walsh was "a visionary", and that his response to the foot and mouth crisis in 2001 marked him out as an exceptional politician.

"He held the line for the country," he said, adding that he was "a great mentor", regularly contacting him to offer advice.

John O'Donoghue recalled his "tremendous wit", adding that he was one of "the shrewdest political tacticians in the country".

These descriptions of his characteristics echoed around Clonakilty and inside the Church of the Immaculate Conception, to where his coffin was carried from his home on nearby Emmet Square a little after 10.30am.

It was shouldered, first out of the house and later into the church, by his three sons, Ronan, Killian and Brian, and three brothers, Donie, Chris and Finbarr.

Following close behind was wife Marie, daughters Denise and Kate and other family members.

Chief celebrant Fr Pat Walsh - a relative of the deceased - remembered teaching Joe 50 years ago in Farranferris, where he was "a solid, serious pupil" and "not a teacher's pet".

"Over the years the eternal stature of Joe has revealed itself," Fr Walsh said, stating that Joe was "an authentically great individual", someone with a natural reticence that had to be cloaked on occasion to court the electorate.

"We have to sacrifice our principles from time to time, don't we?" he said to laughter from the huge congregation.

He said the final rosary in CUH last weekend had been administered in Irish, as per Joe's request, concluding that, while a public man, his family would remember how good a father he was, "staunch in his faith, firm in his convictions, honourable and upright".

Delivering the eulogy on behalf of the family, former Cllr Donal O'Rourke said his friend had been "at home in the room in the back of the local hall at a meeting, or the gilded halls of the capitals of Europe".

"The past never shackled him and his vision for the future always propelled him forward," he said, adding that Walsh's love of the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh was simply another way in which he defined himself as a son of the soil.

Marking out the shrewdness which characterised his political dealings Mr O'Rourke recalled how, as a youngster, Walsh was always out first to do the milking in the morning ahead of his brothers as that meant he got "the easy ones".

Their only near-falling out, he said, was in a car on a July day traversing West Cork, when Walsh swerved the problem by playing a tape of Christmas carols as they drove, eventually leading to mutual laughter.

Silent Night was among the carols played, a song he said would now take on a different significance this coming Christmas, especially for the former Minister's family.

Then to the tolling of the church bells and under a winter sun, the cortège departed, once more travelling past the watchful gaze of the statue of Michael Collins in Emmet Square, pausing outside the family home and on to Ahiohill - the land of his youth and now his final resting place.

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