Simple though poignant farewell

IN a state funeral especially fashioned to fit the gentleness of the man being honoured, there were no guns, just Garret.

The traditional graveside volley of shots was done away with, replaced by a trickle of tears from family and friends.

An ovation over the tricolour-draped coffin was also considered unnecessary, for what words could there be left to say about a life almost as long as that of the state whose modern face Dr FitzGerald did so much to shape?

Laid to rest beside his devoted wife Joan in the crisp, chilly, sunshine, it was a simple, but poignant final moment to an extraordinary life.

Thousands of mourners thronged the roadsides and overhead bridges as the funeral cortege made the solemn journey from the Sacred Heart Church, Donnybrook to Shanganagh Cemetery, Shankhill, taking a memory-laden detour through streets associated with his boyhood and marriage as it did so.

The sombre tone of the 90-minute funeral Mass was occasionally broken as the endearing eccentricities of the ex-taoiseach crackled through the service and momentarily transformed sorrow to joyous remembrance.

As when his son Mark recalled: “On Easter Sunday he told some of the younger grand-daughters when they asked him why their grandmother Joan had a fear of flying that it possibly had something to do with the fact that he used to read her the near-miss reports from Aer Lingus in bed.” Laughter rippled through the church.

And among the offertory gifts of bread and wine was an Aer Lingus timetable, as it was noted how the former airline employee loved nothing better throughout his long life than to get stuck into list upon list of statistics.

Mark said that obsession stayed with him right to the very end: “Like when he asked for the latest exchequer figures when dealing with respiratory failure.”

The hymn Morning Has Broken opened the Mass, but Mr FitzGerald’s granddaughters Reachbha and Laoise captured the musical spirit of the occasion with their haunting renditions of Mo Grá Thú A Thiarna and Ag Críost an Soil.

Remembering that “Jesus was a party giver and a party goer”, Mr FitzGerald’s close friend Fr Enda McDonagh said the former taoiseach shared the same of love of being surrounded by people — and also had a long-standing interest in fine wines.

How Mr FitzGerald’s life was woven like threads through the dramatic tapestry of the past century of Irish history was underscored by the fact his mother and father became engaged in the year of the 1916 uprising and later took different sides in the Civil War, before Garret’s birth in 1926 saw them try to reach across the still raw national divide through the choice of godparents for the future taoiseach.

Though Fr McDonagh spoke of Mr FitzGerald’s “unfinished business” in his homily, he noted how he had managed to live just long enough to see a new chapter open in the story of this country’s relationship with Britain, which the ex-taoiseach had helped begin to make possible with the Anglo-Irish Agreement.

“By some miracle of insight ... he woke up in his final agony, in a way, to see the Queen and President on the television on Tuesday night, 36 hours, or so, before he died. It was the culmination of what he had, for so long, strove. We are grateful for that,” Fr McDonagh told the congregation.

Former president Mary Robinson took part in the ceremony, along with Taoiseach Enda Kenny to emphasis the cross-party nature of Dr FitzGerald’s brand of political and social inclusion.

When the former taoiseach’s flag-draped coffin was borne by military police to its final resting place at Shanganagh Cemetery a warm ripple of applause went through the 400-strong crowd along with the chill breeze of the late afternoon.

The hearse had been escorted by 18 army motorcycle outriders, and a 106-strong guard of honour, the President and most of the Cabinet was there to witness the moment the former taoiseach’s coffin was lowered into the ground beside his wife who died in 1999.

It was a day when all aspects of Dr FitzGerald’s impact on Irish national life were remembered and cherished — his statesmanship along with his engaging quirkiness.

A fitting summation of the fondness with which most Irish people now look back on the character of this most unusual of taoisigh could be found in the quotation from Cardinal Newman in the mass order of service.

It read: “A merry heart is a perpetual feast.”


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