Tuesday 6 December 2016

Fianna Fail's old guard bid farewell to PJ Mara

Hundreds attend Requiem Mass of a charismatic political operator

Philip Ryan and John Downing

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

GOODBYE TO PJ: Denis O’Brien helps carry the coffin. Photo: Mark Condren
GOODBYE TO PJ: Denis O’Brien helps carry the coffin. Photo: Mark Condren
GOODBYE TO PJ: Sheila Tormey and daughter Elena attend the Requiem Mass for former Fianna Fail Press Secretary PJ Mara at St Mary’s Church Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren
Ray Burke. Photo: Mark Condren
Des O'Malley. Photo: Mark Condren
Ray MacSharry. Photo: Mark Condren

PJ Mara left no diaries, notes or memos to recall his 50-year involvement in politics and his many government links, the mourners at his Requiem Mass were told yesterday.

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Politicians of all parties were joined by people from the arts, journalism, the law, and other facets of Irish life to honour the former government press secretary, political strategist, lobbyist and advisor. Mr Mara died at the Beacon Hospital early on Friday morning and had been ill for some months.

Mr Mara's partner Sheila, son John, and daughter Elena, were among the family at the obsequies at St Mary's Church, Haddington Road, Dublin. Mr Mara will be buried beside his late wife Breda in Kinvara on Galway's Atlantic coast today.

The chief celebrant, Fr Patrick Claffey PP St Mary's, was joined by concelebrants, Fathers Tom Stack, Enda McDonagh and Dermod McCarthy. Fr Claffey said Mr Mara was a parishioner and friend, who helped with fundraising for the church's restoration, and the priest stressed his "simple, old-fashioned Catholic faith" which was very important to him.

Fr Claffey said Mr Mara would have "scorned" the idea of writing a "kiss-and-tell" memoir of his times at the centre of power. "That shows his very strong sense of self and his sense of what he would do and what he would not do," the priest said.

Fr Claffey explained that as PJ Mara was leaving his press job at Government Buildings, a senior official gave him a floppy disc containing his correspondence.

"When PJ opened it, there was a single letter. The single letter was to one of the embassies around Dublin apologising for not being able to attend some social function. And that was pretty much the Mara oeuvre and FOI wouldn't have been much use," Fr Claffey remarked.

Before his funeral mass former Taoiseach Brian Cowen said PJ Mara was still a "master of all he surveyed" even as his health deteriorated in hospital. Mr Cowen visited Mr Mara on a number of occasions in the Beacon Hospital in Dublin where he was receiving treatment for cancer.

The former Taoiseach said he was taken by his friend's ability to engage with all around him despite his worsening health. "He still had the mischievous smile and warm handshake, although he was in intensive care for seven months," Mr Cowen said.

Mr Mara did not play any role in Fianna Fáil when Mr Cowen was in government but the pair got to know one another under the previous leaderships of Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern. Mr Cowen said the strategist's "engaging personality" meant even opposition politicians held him in high regard.

"He could chew the cud with whomever he met. Political opponents had more than a sneaking regard for him because they realised he did a job in tough times very well and subsequently his friendships spanned the political spectrum," Mr Cowen added.

St Mary's Church was full for yesterday's Requiem Mass which featured exquisite singing by cantor Emer Barry. The readers were his brother-in-law, Declan Brogan, and Dr Maurice Manning, Chancellor, National University of Ireland. Prayers were read by former presidential advisor Eileen Gleeson, Fianna Fáil secretary general Seán Dorgan and the businessman Denis O'Brien, with whom Mr Mara had worked closely in recent years.

The Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin interrupted attendance at his party's Ard Fheis and was joined by two former Taoisigh, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, along with a veritable who's who of the party, past and present. Among them were three former EU Commissioners, Ray MacSharry, David Byrne and Charlie McCreevy, former ministers Batt O'Keefe, Ray Burke, Michael Smith, Martin Mansergh and Noel Treacy, along with former and current TDs Charlie O'Connor, Noel Treacy, Seán Ardagh and John McGuinness.

Writer Anthony Cronin who worked closely with PJ Mara when he was cultural advisor to Mr Haughey said: "Someone said on RTE that PJ was just another ruthless politician which simply wasn't true. I think he wandered into politics because of his friendship with Charlie.

"He was kind-hearted, he was cultured and capable of great irony which sometimes got him into trouble like the time he made the uno Duce, una vice comment which of course was said with great irony. He was a refreshing man with a refreshing attitude I found him a kindred spirit in many ways . He sometimes found life difficult surrounded by ruthless earnest and competing politicians. He was different and he remained different."

Sunday Independent

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