TAOISEACH Enda Kenny and members of the Government were left devastated after the sudden death of their friend and colleague, junior minister Shane McEntee. Fellow ministers and TDs were stunned by the tragic loss of the popular Meath politician.
Mr McEntee (56) died yesterday morning shortly after having breakfast with his family at his home at Nobber, Co Meath.
He headed out to walk his dogs, but was found dead close by a short time later.
Mr McEntee’s death is not being regarded as suspicious. Friends said the junior minister for agriculture had been feeling under pressure recently over criticism he was receiving after the Budget and issues in his department and his constituency.
Mr McEntee comes from a well-known family in Co Meath and his brother, Gerry, is an All-Ireland winning footballer and surgeon in the Mater Hospital.
President Michael D Higgins led the tributes to the junior minister, saying he made an "enormous contribution to community and public life throughout his career in farming and agriculture, as a TD representing the people of Meath in Dail Eireann and to the world of sport through his involvement with the GAA".
Mr McEntee was a close supporter of Mr Kenny's during the leadership heave. He became the first Fine Gael TD elected under Mr Kenny's leadership, by winning the 2005 by-election to replace former Taoiseach John Bruton.
His death comes just days after homeowners whose houses are affected by pyrite, a substance that damages the foundations, were granted a reprieve on paying the property tax.
The junior minister had lobbied Finance Minister Michael Noonan for the change.
Mr McEntee is survived by his wife Kathleen, and grown-up children Vincent, Helen and Sally.
One of eight children, his father Tony died at the age of 86 in March last year.
His mother Madge lives in Nobber.
Prior to entering politics Mr McEntee was a cattle farmer in the Castletown area and ran the Dee Local bar in Nobber before it was sold last year.
Devastated at the sudden passing of Mr McEntee, Mr Kenny described him as a "loyal friend and colleague".
"Since his election to the Dail, Shane has been a dedicated servant of the people of Meath. As Minister of State, he brought great energy, diligence and enthusiasm to his role," he said.
Mr Bruton said Mr McEntee was a man of "unlimited emotional, and practical, commitment" to any task he took on.
"It absorbed him totally. No effort was ever spared," he said.
Sympathisers came and went to Mr McEntee's house outside Nobber village all afternoon.
Located in the rolling Co Meath countryside, the property is in the heart of the area the McEntee family have farmed for decades.
Locals were shocked at the death of Mr McEntee.
"I knew him fierce well, he was a very good neighbour down through the years," one neighbour said.
"I only heard what happened at lunchtime when my daughter called me and told me to turn on the news.
"It's shocking, terribly shocking. I'm just speechless.
"He's done so much for north Co Meath, for the local sports clubs and all that. He was always willing to help out any way he could.
"He comes from a good sporting family, his brother played football and he was a coach.
"Shane was under a lot of pressure in the Dail. I'd say he went into politics at the wrong time.
"He was such a great friend to local farmers here – this is a hard-working area. He talked to an awful lot of people.
"He was broken-hearted to have to vote for a lot of the things in the Dail, like the Budget. He was talking about the cuts to carers. He made remarks on it. That was a big thing."
Another neighbour said: "I'm shocked, it's very sad, very sad. He was a great man, anything he could do for you he'd do it."
One local recalled how Mr McEntee's father, Tony, a dairy farmer, passed away in March 2011 and the large funeral at the local church.
"Tony was buried here about a year-and-a-half ago. It was like a state funeral, the Taoiseach was here, all the government ministers, It must have been hundreds of people that turned out if not thousands," he said.
"This funeral is going to be even bigger because you have politicians, the farming community, people from the medical profession and the GAA."
Family were also gathered at the home of Mr McEntee's mother Madge in the village. "It's terrible for her to lose her son as well," a local said.
It is expected that Mr McEntee's funeral will be held on Christmas Eve and that he'll be buried alongside his father.