Tears, laughter and all that jazz as tales of legend shared
Published 21/01/2012 | 05:00
As mourners streamed into the church yesterday morning, they were greeted by the sound of saxophonist Richie Buckley softly playing Gershwin's 'Someone to Watch over Me'.
The funeral of 'Sunday Independent' editor Aengus Fanning, who died aged 69 last Tuesday after battling cancer, was never going to be a conventional send-off, nor a short one.
And so in the packed Church of St Joseph in Glasthule, Co Dublin, the grief of his family, friends and colleagues was mingled with laughter at stories and fond reminiscences, and applause for the jazz band playing beside the altar.
For the man who had cast a giant but always colourful shadow over Irish media since his appointment in 1984 as editor "died with his boots on", still doing a job he loved.
And his funeral mass reflected the huge affection in which he was held by so many people; his wife Anne Harris and sons Dion and Evan delivered eulogies, and son Stephen sang a song in tribute to his father.
The chief celebrant of the mass, local priest Denis Kennedy, was first to pay a warm tribute, pointing out that Aengus "did not retire -- as they say, he died with his boots on".
"He fought bravely, with courage. He fought the good fight, he fought until the end of the race. He had no fear of dying -- his only sadness was leaving Anne and the three lads."
At the end of the mass, his wife Anne, who had worked with Aengus since the mid-80s, delivered a touching tribute to the man from whom she had been inseparable.
Speaking about his wide range of interests, Anne explained: "Because he did not specialise in anything, he considered himself uneducated.
"This was decidedly not true. He applied the Socratic method, which would drive us to distraction at editorial meetings -- 'I'm only asking questions' was the constant refrain, and at no point did anyone respond: 'I'm only answering the question'," she said to laughter from the journalists in the congregation.
"He hated what he called the 'bleedin' obvious' and loved anything original," she said, adding that Aengus "had only one editorial agenda, and that was never to give comfort to terrorists".
She spoke of his love for his newspaper: "He died at his post because he loved it. He bought every torn copy of the 'Sunday Independent' he came across, so as not to short-change the reader", and also of his love for his three boys.
"His proudest achievement was his three sons, Dion, Evan and Stephen; he never ever went to sleep without telling him that he loved them."
Two of his sons, Dion and Evan, followed their father into journalism -- Dion is football correspondent with the 'Sunday Independent', and Evan works for the 'Guardian' in London.
Evan told of his father's life-long search "for a bit of magic".
"It was a relentless search for magic -- a piece of writing, a piece of music, a sporting achievement, or -- most of all -- in people he'd see the magic spark. I hope he knew that for all of us, he was the biggest source of magic," he said.
Gales of laughter erupted as Evan recounted how he had taken his very weak father from hospital for an outing in December. He described how Aengus had sat in near-silence for 10 minutes as they drove, gathering the strength to speak.
"And then he said, 'why aren't you driving in the bus-lanes?'" as laughter rose in recognition of this typical piece of his legendary impatience and disdain for rules.
Dion paid a tender tribute to the woman who had nursed their father through illness. "Anne's devotion to him during his illness was staggering and all-consuming. Because of her, dad never felt alone, and we owe her everything for that."
There was also a eulogy from a long-time friend of Aengus, author Charles Lysaght. "For Aengus Fanning, life was a feast to be savoured to the full. He was a man comfortable in his own skin and utterly devoid of self-importance."
Aengus's other lifelong love -- music -- was woven throughout the funeral mass.
Jazz musicians Miles Drennan, Hugh Buckley, Richie Buckley, Dave Fleming and Ciaran Wilde set up beside the altar and jazz classics replaced the traditional hymns.
His son Stephen, who plays with The Lost Tycoons, sang 'Abilene', and Mary Coughlan sang 'just a closer Walk with Thee' -- Aengus had requested that she sing at his funeral, while Paul Sweeney performed Louis Armstrong's 'What A Wonderful World'.
As mourners filed out of the church and Aengus began his final journey to Mount Jerome crematorium, the band played, 'The Last Waves Go By', a song written by Aengus about 15 years ago.
Chief mourners were his wife Anne Harris, deputy editor of the 'Sunday Independent'; his three sons Dion, Evan and Stephen; his brothers Rio, Patrick and Connell; and his step-daughters Constance and Nancy. He was predeceased by the mother of his sons, his then-wife Mary.
President Higgins was represented by Col Michael McMahon and the Taoiseach by Comdt Michael Treacy. Gavin O'Reilly, chief executive officer of Independent News & Media plc attended, as did Vincent Crowley, chief operating officer, Independent News & Media plc; Joe Webb, chief executive, INM (Ireland); Declan Carlyle, deputy managing director, INM (Ireland); Michael Denieffe, group managing editor, Independent Newspapers; Michael Brophy, chief executive, INM (Northern Ireland); Andrew Donagher, company secretary, INM plc; Eamonn O'Kennedy, chief financial controller, Ireland; Garret Doyle, CEO of Independent Colleges; Brendan Elebert, production and procurement director, INM Ireland; and Eithne Healy, wife of Liam Healy, former group CEO and former deputy chairman, INM.
Also at the funeral were Irish Independent editor Gerry O'Regan; Irish Independent senior deputy editor Eddie Cunningham; 'Sunday World Editor' Colm McGinty; deputy editor of the 'Sunday Independent' Willie Kealy and his wife Carmel; Willy Clingan, managing editor of the 'Irish Times'; Tim Vaughan, editor of the 'Irish Examiner'; Kevin Dawson, RTE's head of corporate communications; Paul Drury, editorial executive with the 'Irish Daily Mail'; and many current and former columnists from the 'Sunday Independent', including TD Shane Ross, Ulick O'Connor and broadcaster Eamon Dunphy.
Lt Col Tom Aherne, director of public relations, represented Lt-Gen Sean McCann, chief of staff of the Irish Defence Forces; Bernadette Guerin, mother of the late Veronica Guerin and Veronica's husband Graham Turley and their son Cathal; broadcaster Gay Byrne; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin; director of the Gate theatre, Michael Colgan; pianist John O'Conor; actress Alison Doody; and former chief justice Ronan Keane; along with GAA legend Paidi O Se and fashion designer John Rocha also attended.
On Thursday at his removal, one newspaperman having surveyed the church pews -- one filled with sombre pretty girls and another with grizzled academics -- pronounced (quietly): "This looks like a cross between 'Fade Street' and Aosdana."
Irreverent, perhaps. But one suspects that Aengus would've been the first to approve.