"THE last time" were deemed the three saddest words in any language by the late Con Houlihan.
And his home town came to a standstill yesterday with a mixture of pride and sadness, as it welcomed a beloved son -- for the last time.
The celebrated writer and sports journalist's ashes were laid to rest in the family plot in Kilbannivane cemetery in Castleisland, Co Kerry.
Con died in Dublin on August 4, aged 87. But, in accordance with his wishes, he was taken home to be buried.
The parish priest of Castleisland, Monsignor Dan O'Riordan, told mourners at the Requiem Mass -- including Con's partner Harriet Duffin, nieces Ann and Patricia Houlihan and extended family -- that they had brought him back to his roots that he loved and cherished.
Symbols of the man -- who has been described as an "emperor of the written word", "a son of the soil" and "humble intellectual" -- were brought to the altar.
A box of flies, a sod of turf, a Castleisland rugby jersey, a stick of chalk and one of his books, represented his passions and who he was -- a fisherman, turfcutter, sportsman, teacher and writer.
Mgr O'Riordan said Con and his late sister Marie ran the last 'hedge school' in the area and that he had taught in every school in Castleisland at some stage.
Like his lecturer in UCC, Daniel Corkery, author of 'The Hidden Ireland', Con had revealed in his writing a hidden Ireland -- the life of ordinary working people.
"He had a great respect and love for the work of human hands -- and if the hands got dirty in the process, all the better," he said.
The priest drew laughter from the congregation when he recalled one of Con's stories about the two visitors who began "spouting Latin" in his earshot while talking about the peasant nearby.
"It would have been interesting to have seen their facial expressions when Con responded with vigour in Latin," he added.
On issues of life and death, he said Con's beliefs were traditional and expressed in ordinary simple language. Dying was "going upstairs" to a place of security, warmth and rest.
Among the congregation were Kerry football legends John O'Keeffe and Ogie Moran; former tanaiste Dick Spring; Irish rugby hero Mick Galwey; former soccer manager Eoin Hand; past GAA president and MEP Sean Kelly; retired 'Kerryman' sports journalist Eamon Horan, who worked with Con; and Irish Independent columnist Billy Keane, son of John B Keane, a lifelong friend.
The eulogy was delivered by Con's niece Patricia, who remarked that when discussing his funeral arrangements, 'Connie' had decided his funeral would be in Portobello, "his beloved Latin Quarter in Dublin" but his final resting place was to be "home, in Castleisland".
And as the cortege made its way on foot from the Church of St Stephen and St John, it made a short detour to Castleisland's Latin Quarter, pausing briefly outside Hussey's and McGullicuddy's -- pubs that were once popular haunts of the writer.
Shopkeepers on Main Street shut their doors and lined the street and pupils from Castleisland boys' national school formed a guard of honour as the hearse carrying the small casket with the ashes made the short journey to Kilbannivane Cemetery -- Con's last wish honoured.