Mourners give Ronnie a rare ould send-off
Mourners pack out church for uplifting service of
Published 20/08/2008 | 00:00
AS the large congregation sang along to 'Weile, Weile, Waile', clapping and stamping their feet, there could be no doubt that Ronnie Drew was looking down in full approval at the "big party" he had requested to mark his passing.
Few tears were openly shed. Instead, the people that Ronnie loved best showed the depth of their pain and their loss through music and song, as many of the most respected figures on the Irish music scene gathered for a last 'session' yesterday in tribute to the iconic Dubliner balladeer.
His heartbroken daughter Cliodhna remembered him as a "music maker and dreamer of dreams . . . and certainly no handshaker" -- in the words of poet Arthur O'Shaughnessy.
Finbar Furey, Phil Coulter, jazz guitarist Louis Stewart, folk singer Eleanor Shanley, Don Baker, Mike Hanrahan of Stockton's Wing, and the remaining members of the Dubliners -- Barney McKenna and John Sheahan, guitarist Eamon Campbell, Sean Cannon and Patsy Watchorn -- all played and sang their hearts out in memory of the folk hero with the trademark gravelly voice, who died last Saturday, at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.
An estimated 3,000 people attended the funeral Mass in Greystones, Co Wicklow, arriving long before the 10am start to pack out both the Holy Rosary Church and the adjacent church hall, where a video link had been set up. The body of mourners overflowed into the churchyard and up the road almost as far the railway bridge.
They came from all walks of life: celebrity and non-celebrity, led by Ronnie Drew's son, actor Phelim Drew and his wife Sue; daughter Cliodhna and her husband David Dunne; grandchildren Ruardhrai, Vivian, Milo, Lilian and Seanie and Ronnie's brother Tony and sisters Joan and Margie.
Representatives of the President and Taoiseach attended, together with Lord Mayor of Dublin, Eibhlin Byrne.
Singer-songwriter Paul Brady, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, Paul McGuinness, Sharon Shannon, songwriter Pete St John -- who penned 'Dublin in the Rare Aul' Times' -- and Michael Colgan of the Gate Theatre all were there.
Shane MacGowan arrived in a top hat and grey pinstripe suit while BP Fallon, Shay Healy, racehorse trainer Ted Walsh and actors Alan Stanford and Fair City's Jim Bartley rubbed shoulders with politicians Tom Kitt and Ciaran Cuffe.
Ronnie Drew's good friend, Bono, had been unable to attend because he is holidaying with his family in France.
Bishop Eamon Walsh told the congregation that "love, compassion and a huge feeling of pain for those who got a hard hand in life oozed through the gravelly voice of Ronnie Drew".
The singer had managed to "elevate the words of song to an almost sacred mantra".
But despite the Dubliner's legendary status in the music world, Ronnie also played the simple role of a loving father, the grandfather who always had sweets in his pocket and the loyal friend who took centre stage as anecdotes abounded.
There were guffaws of appreciation as parish curate Denis Quinn, a family friend, told the congregation how he'd been having coffee at a nearby hostelry one day when Ronnie came in and, also ordering coffee, added "cream" in his usual manner.
When the girl brought over half-whipped cream, Ronnie asked for "pouring cream" -- but they had none. Ronnie got up from his seat, and, shortly after, came back from the shop with a carton of cream, placing it on the table.
"Now we've pouring cream," he said calmly.
The laughter was followed by gentle nods of sad remembrance as Fr Quinn told how Ronnie had spoken at the funeral of his beloved wife, Deirdre, last year.
"I was married to a lady. I don't know how she put up with me so long. I wouldn't have put up with me," he'd said, adding: "She kept me alive . . . she was a great one for helping the lame ducks and there wasn't a lamer one than me."
Prayers read by family members gave thanks to the doctors who'd helped care for Ronnie.
And after an instrumental jazz rendition of 'Maggie', Ronnie's sisters Joan and Margie brought the Offertory gifts to the altar.
A haunting harmonica solo of 'Amazing Grace' by Don Baker drew heartfelt applause from the congregation -- but it was the absence of Ronnie's own distinctive rasp from 'McAlpine's Fusiliers' that made the singer's absence keenly missed -- a sense of loss beautifully captured in Eleanor Shanley's sorrowful performance of 'The Parting Glass which followed.
Ronnie's children gave special thanks to all family, friends, neighbours and the medical team who helped during their father's long illness.
The mourners heard that Ronnie had had an "amazing life and career" and had played with many musicians -- a large cross-section of whom were at the funeral.
"Just thanks, it's been beautiful, so thank you," said Cliodhna.
She also thanked all those who had contributed to the 'Ballad of Ronnie Drew', first performed on the Late Late Show, which she said was as a "lovely gesture which did a lot for Dad".
Phelim Drew said his father had been a "very large man with a very large character".
"My dad enjoyed life to the full and enjoyed quality in everything. In conversation, in food, in cigars, in wine, in dress, but he didn't have a huge amount of respect for money.
"He only thought of it as a way to make life bearable and enjoyable," he revealed.
Bishop Eamon Walsh told the congregation that if the spirit of Ronnie Drew could live on in the goodness of people's lives who followed, it would be a "wonderful gift long after the flowers have faded". Then 'Walzing Matilda' was played to rapturous applause.
But the warmest and loudest reception was reserved for the man himself. The large crowd broke out into prolonged, spontaneous applause as the coffin left the church for nearby Redford cemetery, where the remains of one of Irish music's best-loved figures were laid to rest alongside his beloved wife Deirdre.