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'A man gifted with sympathyand thoughtfulness for others'

THE grief and anger spilled from Gerry McEntee as he stood on the altar just feet away from the tricolour-draped coffin of his brother Shane.

"Shame on you people, you faceless cowards who sent him horrible messages on the website and on texts. Shame on you," he blasted.

The congregation packed into the St John the Baptist Church, and the large crowd outside it, broke into heartfelt applause.

Three times they clapped the former county footballer as he went to the defence of his brother for one last time.

Gerry bitterly pointed out what he called "the absolute hideous irony" of the junior agriculture minister finding himself in the eye of a maelstrom of abusive attacks over comments he had made about cuts to the respite carers' grant.

"I challenge everyone here or outside to show me a politician who cared more for his community than Shane McEntee," he proclaimed fiercely.

And more applause rippled through the church pews and out along the main street thronged with mourners.

But the overwhelming feeling at the funeral was one of utter numbness. A dark pall of disbelief had descended like a bleak December rain when the news broke that the Meath East TD had taken his own life last Friday.

And so, instead of spending Christmas Eve wrapping presents, visiting friends, beginning preparations for the big dinner in a kitchen made warm by love and happiness, Shane's family gathered by his grave to say goodbye to a husband, father and son who somehow had become lost in the dark.

About 3,000 people came to pay their final respects, including President Michael D Higgins, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore. Some of Shane's colleagues, particularly those from Fine Gael, quietly admitted to having had little peace since hearing of his death.

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They have been replaying in their minds over and again their last conversations with him in Leinster House and wondering, as does everyone who loses a cherished person to suicide, had they missed a sign of his despairing intention.

The Mass was both simple and ceremonial, as befitted a modest man who was also a Government minister. His coffin was draped in a Tricolour, and upon it was a family photo showing the faces of Shane, his wife Kathleen, his daughters Aoife, Helen and Sally and son Vincent all wreathed in wide smiles.

The Mass was celebrated by parish priest Fr Seamus Houlihan, and the homily was given by a family friend Fr Michael Sheerin from the neighbouring parish of Lobinstown, with music by solo singer Mary Duff.

In the homily, Fr Sheerin referred to the immense pressure under which Shane had laboured in recent times. He was "perhaps too sensitive and with too many concerns for his own well-being", he told the congregation.

He was "gifted with a sympathy and thoughtfulness for others. . . that might not immediately show from an outgoing, cheerful personality".

At the end of the Mass, Shane's son Vincent had a few words to say about his dad. "Every eight-year old boy thinks that their dad is 10ft tall," he said. "He was the best thing ever. I just followed him around everywhere, on the farm, to football matches. You grow up but I never stopped thinking he was 10ft tall."

After the Mass, Shane was taken to his final resting place. Flanked by members of his Fine Gael family, his coffin slowly passed two guards of honour lining the main street – one line of IFA members, and another line of players and staff of some of the many county clubs which the sports-mad minister had managed, before being carried by army police to the graveside.

The final eulogy was from Shane's old friend, the Taoiseach.

The TD had made an impassioned speech during the attempted Fine Gael heave over two years ago when Enda's career hung by a thread, and now it was his turn to pay the saddest of tributes. Enda spoke of how Shane loved to help people.

"His reward was never column inches, never public praise, it was a problem solved, a life saved, a future secured."

He added that was a time "to remember Shane and all of those others, all of those tragic others who in one dread moment wanted nothing more from their life than to leave it.

"For the next 12 days, for the next 12 months and beyond, let these feature high up on our national preoccupations to create an Ireland that chooses light over dark, hope over despair, reflection over reaction," he said.

"When tragedy and time collided last Friday we can see that with the clarity of hindsight, sometimes the battles we fight with ourselves are the biggest battles of all."

At the end of the speech, Enda's emotion spilled over. "Goodbye Shane, see you further on up the road," he said, his voice breaking, and the Taoiseach's tears flowed.

Seated beside the grave, Shane's youngest daughter Sally hugged the framed family photo to her, and kissed the face of her father through the glass.

And a silent night fell over the country.

Mourned across the divide

AMONG the 3,000 mourners were President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina, An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala, cabinet colleagues Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, Health Minister James Reilly, Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, Environment Minister Phil Hogan, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, Transport Minister Leo Varadkar, Public Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald, Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe, Attorney General Maire Whelan and junior ministers Fergus O'Dowd, Brian Hayes and John Perry, along with Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett.

Also attending the funeral were former Taoiseach John Bruton, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness and many TDs and senators, including Fine Gael's Charlie Flanagan, Ray Butler, Damien English, Regina Doherty, Brian Walsh, Frank Feighan, James Bannon, Martin Heydon, Terence Flanagan, Olivia Mitchell, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Patrick O'Donovan, Derek Keating, Peter Mathews, John Paul Phelan, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Aine Collins, Pat Breen, Joe Carey, Sean Conlan, Noel Coonan, Joe O'Reilly, Eoghan Murphy, Paschal Donohoe, Pat Deering, Pat O'Neill and Terry Brennan; Labour's Michael McNamara, Fianna Fail's Eamon O Cuiv, Brendan Smith, Diarmuid Wilson and Thomas Byrne; Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Peadar Toibin and Independent Catherine Murphy, along with former Fine Gael TDs John Farrelly and Andrew Boylan.

Also present was IFA president John Bryan and SIPTU president Jack O'Connor.

Several prominent figures from the GAA were at the funeral, including former Kerry footballer Jack O'Shea and former Tipperary hurling manager Babs Keating.

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