'Real poetry that they were taken together': West Cork's Paddy Sheehan buried alongside his beloved wife

'Real poetry that they were taken together': West Cork's Paddy Sheehan buried alongside his beloved wife
Fr. Anthony Buckley giving a blessing prior to Requiem Mass for the late P.J. ( Paddy ) in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s. Family members Diarmuid, Deirdre, Eucharia (O’Mahony) and Maebh (O’Connor) outside the church.Picture Dan Linehan

A “colossus” of Irish politics, Paddy Sheehan, former TD for Cork South West, was laid to rest with his wife and political partner Frances who died just seven days and seven hours before him. 

Mr Sheehan, 87, served his community for almost half a century, fighting for vital infrastructure in his rural constituency and pushing to make West Cork the popular tourist destination it now is. 

A community activist and devoted family man with a thirst for knowledge, he would 'devour the Irish Examiner from cover to cover everyday' and demand silence during the six and nine o'clock news - the only TV he ever watched.

The funeral cortège of the P.J. Sheehan followed by his family members Diarmuid, Deirdre, Eucharia (O’Mahony) and Maebh (O’Connor) arriving in Goleen for Requiem Mass in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s. Picture Dan Linehan
The funeral cortège of the P.J. Sheehan followed by his family members Diarmuid, Deirdre, Eucharia (O’Mahony) and Maebh (O’Connor) arriving in Goleen for Requiem Mass in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s. Picture Dan Linehan

"There are very few people who leave legacies and an indelible imprint on the communities they are part of but PJ Sheehan is one such person," said Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney during a graveside oration in Goleen.

“It is strangely fitting that the beautiful weather that we have seen for the last number of days broke last evening. It is almost like West Cork is weeping today to say goodbye to a favourite son."

Mr Sheehan's public life had "broad foundations" - he worked as an auctioneer, a small farmer, a merchant, a shop owner and a community activist before embarking on his political life.

“He loved people - chatting to them .. helping someone out who was in trouble, sharing a joke or a bit of mischief, and people loved him back," Mr Coveney said.

"It didn’t matter whether you were the Taoiseach or a local customer in his shop, everyone mattered the same to PJ Sheehan."

His late wife Frances was central to Paddy's life and career. 

She drove him to clinics across the sprawling rural constituency and what was once a six-hour drive to Dublin every week for decades (1981 to 2002) when he worked in the Dáil. 

"You would never meet one without the other - and if you did, the other was in the room next door," Mr Coveney said to warm, knowing laughter from the crowd. 

A picture of Paddy Sheehan and his late wife Frances on a seat where he used to sit in Goleen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
A picture of Paddy Sheehan and his late wife Frances on a seat where he used to sit in Goleen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe who served with Mr Sheehan between 2007 and 2011, also attended the funeral. 

He told the Irish Examiner that Mr Sheehan was “one in a million. Much beloved in Fine Gael and much respected by many."

“At our annual parliamentary meeting Paddy was always there with Frances," Mr Donohoe said. 

I remember thinking what a great partnership they were, and what a deep love and respect they had for each other. Wherever I saw Paddy, I always saw Frances. So I think this is real poetry that they were taken together. 

Mr Sheehan's late wife Frances was instrumental to his success in politics and in life.

They first met in 1957 in Kilcrohane Hall where he beat a rival suitor to the last dance with her. 

Simon Coveney T.D. Deputy Leader of Fine Gael and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence with Pascal Donoghue, Minister for Finance at the Requiem Mass for the late P.J. ( Paddy ) in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s, Goleen. Picture Dan Linehan
Simon Coveney T.D. Deputy Leader of Fine Gael and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence with Pascal Donoghue, Minister for Finance at the Requiem Mass for the late P.J. ( Paddy ) in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s, Goleen. Picture Dan Linehan

They married the following year and were together ever since.

"We're heartbroken without him and we'll miss him forever," their daughter Maebh said in the opening oration at his funeral from their parish church. 

"Our only consolation is that he's with mum - his true love, his rock, his light, his shining star, together forever like he always wanted it. He adored mum and she him. 

"Words cannot express the loss, shock and pain we are each experiencing on losing both our parents seven days apart. 

"As always, mum was waiting for him with two open arms, and he gladly went into that embrace."

Senator Tim Lombard, who knew Mr Sheehan since he was a child, added: "Paddy was a mentor to me. He took me under his wing when I first entered County Hall. He taught me that politics is about the people.

"He was a colossus in Irish politics and has left an amazing legacy."

Former Minister of State and longtime friend of Mr Sheehan, Donal Carey, who visited Mr Sheehan with former Taoiseach Enda Kenny hours before he died, said that his friend remained lucid and bright until the end.

“He could remember detail we had all forgotten. It was an exchange of old times, all the yarns.

“He was a particularly good friend of mine. And we worked together successfully for years, the non-Gaeltacht islands suffered for years until Minister John Bruton appointed me Minister of State and together with Paddy we brought piers to most of the islands of west Cork."

People lined the streets of West Cork's towns and villages to say their final farewell to Mr Sheehan as his funeral cortege passed by on his final canvas earlier that day.

"It's the death of old rural politics," said local Pat Gallagher as he watched the hearse drive by in Durrus.

"He crossed party lines, people of all political colours voted for Paddy. They voted for him as an individual, as a rural TD.

Capt. Lorraine Whelan, who represented the Taoiseach and Tanaiste with Deirdre one of Paddy’s daughters at the Requiem Mass for the late P.J. ( Paddy ) in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s, Goleen. Picture Dan Linehana
Capt. Lorraine Whelan, who represented the Taoiseach and Tanaiste with Deirdre one of Paddy’s daughters at the Requiem Mass for the late P.J. ( Paddy ) in the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s, Goleen. Picture Dan Linehana

Paddy was always accessible. He'd do a clinic over a pint and a 'small one' and that disarmed people, everyone really opened up to him.

"And his wife Frances took the notes. She was a driving force."

The aide-de-camp for both the Taoiseach and the President attended the West Cork funeral in military uniform.

After his death, President Michael D. Higgins, who served with Mr Sheehan in Dáil Éireann said: "He spoke with humour, wit, sincerity and indeed on occasion with some genius on the problems and prospects of West Cork." 

Deputy leader of Fine Gael, Simon Coveney said that Mr Sheehan would often joke about the challenge of getting elected from a rural political base like Goleen. 

"He would say, if only seagulls had votes he would top the poll every single time.

"Today Paddy’s body is being laid to rest, but we pray that those wings and the Atlantic breeze will carry his soul to join Frances once again in a new and eternal life together."

P.J. ( Paddy ) Sheehan is shouldered to his resting place in adjoining cemetery at the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s in Goleen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
P.J. ( Paddy ) Sheehan is shouldered to his resting place in adjoining cemetery at the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea and St Patrick’s in Goleen, West Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

As mourners left the church and flooded through Goleen, the seat outside his home in which he often sat was empty of the man himself. 

In his place was the black hat he wore next to a table bearing a framed photo of the former TD with his late wife, united now in death as they were so solidly in life.

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