Tuesday 20 March 2018

A 'no nonsense' farewell to one of our greatest leaders

The funeral of Liam Cosgrave was a solemn occasion for a solemn and religious man

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

When his wife Vera died late last year Liam Cosgrave rang his friend, Monsignor John Wilson, in Ballymore Eustace and told him he wanted a low- key funeral for his wife and for himself when his time came: "no speeches and no nonsense", which, the priest added, "was the type of man he was."

It was a sentiment echoed by his son Liam T Cosgrave at the end of the funeral Mass for the 97-year-old former Taoiseach in the Church of the Annunciation in Rathfarnham, Dublin yesterday.

"Dad wasn't a big fan of eulogies, so I am not going to do anything today to upset him - or ye," he told the congregation and, after thanking those in attendance and those who cared for his father, said, "as we say goodbye we are grateful we have had him for so long and will miss him."

In keeping with his character, it was a simple religious ceremony with no frills, no symbols and no outward show of pomp for a man who was Taoiseach at one of the most difficult times in the State's history. His unadorned coffin was carried into the packed church by six soldiers from the Second Military Police and carried from it by his sons Liam and Ciaran and family members, with his daughter Mary following.

But if this was not a State funeral, as he had insisted, the arms of the State - government, opposition, judiciary and church - turned out to say a last farewell to a man born before the State, the son of the State's first leader.

Among the mourners were the last three surviving ministers to serve in his Cabinet, Richie Ryan, Paddy Cooney and Tom O'Donnell. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was flanked in the church by former taoisigh Enda Kenny, Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern and John Bruton. As well as many friends, the congregation included prominent figures from the political and legal establishment.

It was a solemn occasion for a solemn and deeply religious man, enlivened only with one humorous reference from Monsignor Wilson, who said he had known Liam Cosgrave since 1965, before he became a priest. "We became friends from hunting, and he didn't catch too many mongrel foxes either," he said in reference to the former Fine Gael leader's most famous phrase.

"One might disagree with his views, but nobody would ever doubt his integrity," said Mgr Wilson, who celebrated the funeral mass with Fr Martin Cosgrove and Fr Michael Reynolds. He said that Liam Cosgrave "loved family, country and faith; he was a patriot in the best sense of the word." The final commendation was given by Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin. The only ornamentation was organist Marie Cruise's rendition of Gabriel's Oboe (from the film The Mission) during the communion rite.

Afterwards the remains of Liam Cosgrave were taken to Goldenbridge Cemetery in Inchicore where he was laid to rest with his father, William T Cosgrave, his mother Louisa and his wife Vera, near a spreading beech tree, its leaves curling russet with the onset of autumn.

The cross atop the Cosgrave family plot looks polished and new among the weathered old gravestones and wrought iron-surrounded tombs in this corner of the city. But there was a close personal association for the family with the area, as the Cosgraves came originally from nearby James's Street.

Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Fine Fail Leader Micheal Martin.
Photo: Steve Humphreys
Minister Jimmy Deenihan and Fine Fail Leader Micheal Martin. Photo: Steve Humphreys

In front of the cemetery is what remains of Richmond Barracks, where WT Cosgrave and many of those later executed were held after the Easter Rising. He later authorised a large part of it to be torn down and converted into homes for the poor of Dublin.

The reason for the newness of the Celtic cross atop the family grave is that it was vandalised twice in the last five years. Whether this had anything to do with the father and son's steadfast belief in a peaceful Republic was never established.

As the hearse turned into William Street, directly across the road is Track Sports Bookmakers - which would have given the keen racing enthusiast reason to smile on his final journey.

Among the mourners were EU Commissioner Phil Hogan and the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Dublin Micheal Mac Donncha, Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail and leader of the Senate Jerry Buttimer. The Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, former SDLP leader Seamus Mallon, and the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland Maurice Manning were also present.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton and wife Finola. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Former Taoiseach John Bruton and wife Finola. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Former government ministers included Barry Desmond, Gerry Collins, Sean Barrett, Monica Barnes, Dessie O'Malley, Mary Harney, Alan Dukes, Joan Burton, Michael Noonan, George Birmingham, Martin Mansergh, Jimmy Deenihan, James Reilly, Nora Owen, Charlie McCreevy, David Andrews, Pat Rabbitte, Lucinda Creighton and Eoin Ryan.

Serving ministers and ministers of state who attended included Frances Fitzgerald, Richard Bruton, Simon Coveney, Charlie Flanagan, Helen McEntee, Sean Kyne, Mary Mitchell O'Connor, Simon Harris, Pascal Donohoe, Regina Doherty, Paul Kehoe, Eoghan Murphy, John Paul Phelan and the government chief whip Joe McHugh.

Among present and former political colleagues were Sean Haughey, Kate O'Connell, Paul Coghlan, Michael Lowry, Timmy Dooley, Olivia Mitchell, Tom Kitt, Gerry Reynolds, Louis Belton, Brian Hayes MEP, GV Wright, Kieran O'Donnell, Tom Hayes and Brendan Halligan.

The newly appointed Chief Justice Frank Clarke was among many prominent legal figures, including John MacMenamin and William McKechnie of the Supreme Court, President of the High Court Peter Kelly, and former judges John L Murray, Ronan Keane and Alison Lindsay.

There were 29 foreign ambassadors present, including Robin Barnett of the UK and new Papal Nuncio Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo. Among the many friends and admirers were Mike Burns, Sean Duignan, Des Peelo, Noel Dorr, Joe McGowan, Charles Lysaght, Matt Dempsey, John FitzGerald (son of former Taoiseach Garret), David Marren and many others.

The secretary to the government Martin Fraser and the chiefs of the Army, Air Corps, Navy and Garda Siochana also came to pay their respects to a man who had always been a great admirer of the security forces.

Sunday Independent

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