Thursday 27 July 2017

A dear man who sprinkled glitter on the imagination

Friends took poems, a newspaper and a flat cap to the altar, writes Liam Collins

Mourners carry the coffin at the funeral in Donnybrook Picture: Tony Gavin
Mourners carry the coffin at the funeral in Donnybrook Picture: Tony Gavin
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

The last words of the poet, writer and bohemian Anthony Cronin before he died were: "Have I done enough to justify...?"

"That sentence he didn't finish but I know what he meant... had he justified himself in his work. It was a question that didn't need to be answered," his wife Anne Haverty told the packed congregation at his Funeral Mass in the Church of The Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin yesterday.

"But the manner of his death was so beautiful and to his last moments he was so entirely that unique and loveable and loving self that I can only hope to be able always to know the hope and even joy of that night," she added.

Anne Haverty and Sarah Cronin Roche, Tony's daughter, were chief mourners at the funeral which was attended by President Michael D Higgins and a large cross-section of writers, artists and cultural figures.

Frank McGuinness Photo: Tony Gavin
Frank McGuinness Photo: Tony Gavin

Originally from Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, his body was carried from the church in a wicker coffin by friends, including the writer Colm Toibin, to the strains of The Croppy Boy, played by Donal Lunny and Graham Henderson.

"Another exchange we had very soon before his last moment is something I think everyone here might find as consoling as I did. He asked: 'Will we go Anne, will we leave this place?' and I answered: 'Where will we go? And his reply was: 'To the land of certainty, truth and love'."

The essential Tony, she said, "was innocent, guileless and tender" - something that might have surprised many, who believed him to be a man of the world as one who lived life to the full in literary Dublin, and as a writer, critic, newspaper columnist and racegoer himself.

"The truth is I don't believe there has been, in our time, or has been in many other times, such a complete and consummate man as Tony."

Nell McCafferty Photo: Tony Gavin
Nell McCafferty Photo: Tony Gavin

She also told the story that when he was asked as a small boy what he would like to be when he grew up, he answered "the Pope of Scarawalsh", referring to the name of a townland near his home. "He wanted to be Pope, a kind of benign authority, but not Pope of Rome or even Dublin - this little kingdom would be enough," she said.

At the writer's request, his Funeral Mass was celebrated by Msgr Tom Stack with Fr Michael Troy of Terenure College, while the remains were received by Msgr Lorcan O'Brien, administrator of Donnybrook parish. The Readings were by Sarah Cronin Roche and Geraldine Haverty, while Dermot Bolger, Eamon Dunphy, Mary Fitzgerald, Michael Kane and Ben Maguire read the Prayers of the Faithful.

Eamon Dunphy spoke of Tony Cronin's "enduring love of horse racing, jockeys, trainers, bookies and all those who make the races happen".

Friends carried the symbols of his life, a book of his poetry, a newspaper and his "trademark" flat cap, to the altar at the start of the ceremony.

Ann Enright Photo: Tony Gavin
Ann Enright Photo: Tony Gavin

Celebrant Tom Stack said that Anthony Cronin had made "a distinctive contribution to the history of our times" and revealed that during a book launch of short stories by Ben Kiely, Cronin called him aside and said: "Tom, I must tell you I have been vouchsafed by a renewal of belief in God."

"This dear man, who was never anything if not authentic, confided this in me."

The writer Colm Toibin said Anthony Cronin believed fiercely in independence of mind and "the glittery possibility of human liberty" throughout his long life.

"His poems came from a battle in his own spirit, which he relished and which gave him energy, between pure reason, the clarity of statement and the sheer mystery of life and the beauty of language. This same battle informed his way of backing horses - he studied form and bloodlines with immense care but was always open to the magic of the moment, the unexpected and unpredictable."

Colm Toibin
Colm Toibin

He also spoke about Tony Cronin's time as cultural advisor to Charles Haughey, his behind-the-scenes work for a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, his influence in setting up the Heritage Council, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and Aosdana.

He recalled his gift for friendship and hospitality and what he described as "a fierce belief in life in all its oddness and strangeness" and the gifts it can offer.

"Tony was the practical man who enjoyed and added glitter to the life of the imagination as, in his work and his presence and his idealism, he added so much to the life of those who knew him and to those who admired his work. He added also to his country and indeed, even in the last weeks of his life, to the gaiety of nations and the sense of what is possible in our time in the world."

Stephen Rea Photo: Tony Gavin
Stephen Rea Photo: Tony Gavin

The congregation included Eamon Dunphy and his wife Jane Gogan, the writer Dermot Bolger; horse trainer Jim Bolger; Martin Mansergh, former special advisor to Charles Haughey; Paul McGuinness, former manager of U2; the actor Stephen Rea, filmmaker Noel Pearson, playwright Frank McGuinness, writers Anne Enright, Jack Harte, Theo Dorgan; Editor of the Sunday Independent Cormac Bourke, Executive Editor Campbell Spray and Literary Editor Madeleine Keane; painters James Hanley and Anne Madden; broadcasters John Bowman, Desmond Fennell; Sean Haughey TD, Ciaran Haughey, Niamh O'Connor, Peter McDonnell, a literary historian, Seamus Dooley of the NUJ, Catriona Crowe, Nell McCafferty and many other family, friends and acquaintances.

After the Mass his body was borne to Mount Jerome for cremation.

Sunday Independent

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment