Des O'Malley funeral hears of 'awesome' legacy

The former justice minister and founding leader of the Progressive Democrats died earlier this week
Des O'Malley funeral hears of 'awesome' legacy

Family members carry the coffin into the funeral of former politician Des O'Malley at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin. Picture: Damien Eagers/PA Wire

Truth, respect, and integrity were the hallmarks of Des O’Malley’s career and life, his funeral Mass has heard.

In a powerful eulogy, former tánaiste Mary Harney said Mr O’Malley, a former justice minister and founding leader of the Progressive Democrats, leaves behind an “awesome” legacy and was a man of integrity and courage.

The funeral was held under strict Covid-19 restrictions at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin, where Mr O’Malley married his late wife Pat 56 years ago.

Ms Harney thanked him for more than 40 years of friendship and counsel and for “standing by the Republic”, a reference to his most famous speech in 1985 when he broke ranks with the Fianna Fáil party.

Ms Harney said he believed passionately that peace and reconciliation on this island would be based on respect and appreciation of the different traditions, and not through the evil of violence, threats of violence or the sneaking regard and ambivalence towards violence. 

“By standing by the Republic, he was a man of integrity, courage, freedom, and reconciliation,” she said.

(left to right) Liz O'Donnell, former Irish Progressive Democrats politician, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney, former leader of the Progressive Democrats, attending the funeral of former politician Des O'Malley at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin. Picture: Damien Eagers/PA Wire
(left to right) Liz O'Donnell, former Irish Progressive Democrats politician, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney, former leader of the Progressive Democrats, attending the funeral of former politician Des O'Malley at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin. Picture: Damien Eagers/PA Wire

Mr O’Malley’s son, the academic and writer Eoin, spoke on behalf of his six children and painted a very personal picture of the family man, who adored his children and 13 grandchildren.

“Dad was, for us, probably quite a different person to the public persona. He would tell us stories about himself; growing up, and also about him, his younger days in politics. We laughed at the image of him carrying a gun. We thought it was hilarious. The idea of him being anybody's hero struck us as odd,” he said.

“I'd like to say how grateful we are for the contributes that have been paid to our father. Dad was vain enough that he would have wanted a big funeral. It's a pity that he can't get that but we know that he would have enjoyed reading the papers,” he joked.

Eoin spoke of his father's love of Connemara and his knack for saving money, detailing how he was in constant search of the cheapest petrol in Ireland.

“After his retirement, Des took on some household duties, which mainly involved shopping. To our mum's annoyance, he would buy the cheapest product, regardless of quality."

The late Des O'Malley the former leader of the Progressive Democrats photographed with the then Tanaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats Mary Harney TD at the University of Limerick where he was bestowed with an Honorary Doctory of Laws. Picture: Press 22
The late Des O'Malley the former leader of the Progressive Democrats photographed with the then Tanaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats Mary Harney TD at the University of Limerick where he was bestowed with an Honorary Doctory of Laws. Picture: Press 22

Chief celebrant Limerick Redemptorist priest Fr Gerard O'Connor, himself a former Progressive Democrat member, delivered a powerful homily which gave voice to the enduring legacies of Mr O’Malley, both in politics and his personal life.

He said republicanism is the most abused word in Irish political life but Des sought to exude an authentic republicanism.

He quoted one rural councillor who described Mr O’Malley as the best of JFK and Pope John Paul, a description which caused Mr O’Malley to respond with expletives.

He described the early days of the PDs as being like “a start-up on steroids” and said that with a commitment to the common good, Mr O’Malley eschewed titles such as left wing or right wing.

Fr O'Connor said a genuine bond of love and respect between the people of Limerick and Des O’Malley even after his retirement.

He spoke of Mr O’Malley’s love of horse racing and betting.

“Thank you for your conduct unbecoming, for standing by the Republic. We trust you will cherish in the republic of God,” he said, concluding his homily.

As the hearse arrived for the funeral Mass at the Church of the Sacred Heart, mourners broke out into spontaneous applause in tribute to Mr O’Malley.

Des O'Malley speaking at the Progessive Democrats National Conference at the South Court Hotel, Limerick for the final time as a TD in 2002. - Picture: Kieran Clancy. 
Des O'Malley speaking at the Progessive Democrats National Conference at the South Court Hotel, Limerick for the final time as a TD in 2002. - Picture: Kieran Clancy. 

As the blistering sun shone down, his coffin was hoisted upon the shoulders of his sons, grandsons, and friends to be carried into the Church.

Chief mourners were Mr O’Malley’s children Catherine, Hilary, Fiona, Desmond Jr, Eoin, and Maeve, his sister Denise, brother Joseph, and his 13 grandchildren.

As the hymn 'Abide with Me' was performed, President Michael D Higgins crossed the aisle of the Church to sympathise with Mr O’Malley’s children before the funeral Mass commenced.

Among those in attendance were former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Ms Harney’s husband Brian Geoghegan, former tánaiste and now senator Michael McDowell, former minister Liz O’Donnell, former Fine Gael senator Maurice Manning, aide-de-camp to the Taoiseach Brendan McNerney, Dublin Bay South TD Ivana Bacik, and former Fianna Fáil senator Geraldine Feeney.

After the service, Mr O’Malley’s remains were returned to Renville in Connemara to be laid to rest alongside his beloved wife Pat.

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