Hundreds mourn a sporting hero, loving dad and gentleman general
PRESIDENT Mary McAleese led hundreds of mourners who attended the removal last night of former Defence Forces chief Dermot Earley.
The military top brass, senior politicians and a large GAA contingent first packed St Brigid’s Church in the Curragh Camp before moving on to St Conleth’s Parish Church in nearby Newbridge.
Lieutenant General Earley (62), who joined the Defence Forces 44 years ago, died on Wednesday afternoon.
He had been suffering from a mystery illness since late last year which forced him to step down from his post as Army Chief of Staff last month.
Up to 1,000 mourners turned out last night to pay their respects to the Roscommon footballer who was regarded as the greatest player to never win an All-Ireland medal.
“The enormous outpouring of sadness and grief is a true testament of the great esteem and respect in which Dermot was held,” parish priest Fr Joe McDermott told the hundreds of mourners in the church, who included the President and her husband, Martin; the Taoiseach's aide-de-camp Mick Treacy; Defence Minister Tony Killeen; and the new Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lt Gen Sean McCann.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen is expected to attend the funeral today. “The enormous amount at the Curragh surprised me yet they speak eloquently of the man they had come to see,” he added, before describing Lt Gen Earley as “a loving husband, proud father, doting grandfather” and a much-loved son, neighbour, friend and colleague.
Leading the mourners were his mother Kitty, his widow Mary, his grown-up children, including three sons – David, Conor and army officer and Kildare senior footballer Dermot Jnr – and three daughters: GAA All Star winner Noelle, Anna- Marie and Paula. Members of the men’s Kildare senior football team provided a guard of honour as the hearse made its journey to Newbridge, as did former teammates from Dermot’s days in the blue and yellow of Roscommon.
But it was a sea of lily-white that welcomed him into the church as members of the Kildare women's football team, and underage and senior players from his local GAA club, Sarsfields, formed a poignant guard of honour at the church.
Among the highlights in Lt Gen Earley's distinguished military career was his service with the UN in the Middle East from 1975 - 1977 as well as being adjutant of the 52nd Infantry Battalion with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon in 1982 and 1983.
He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1995 and commanded the 27 th Infantry Battalion on the border.
In 2001, he became a colonel and in December 2003 a brigadier general. In February 2004, he was promoted to major general and became chief of staff in 2007.
He played Gaelic football for Roscommon from 1965 to 1985, and was regarded as a sporting legend on the pitch. He later managed the Roscommon and Kildare senior football teams.
But despite his sporting and career achievements, it was Dermot the gentleman that mourners remembered most last night, – the man with a vice-like handshake who was kind to everyone he met.
This was clear, Fr McDermott recalled, in a media interview he had given a number of years ago in which he was asked to name his hero.
“It wasn't a famous general Dermot had named. Neither was it a famous footballer or an outstanding county player,” Fr McDermott explained, “but rather it was an unknown footballer from a small local GAA club.
“I think that speaks volumes about the man and what was important to him,” said Fr McDermott. Lt Gen Earley's funeral Mass takes place with full military honours today at 11am at St Conleth's Graveyard, Athgarvan Road, Newbridge.