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Sunday 25 February 2018

Crowds mourn Kerryman 'who transformed the Dublin skyline'

Ronald Quinlan Special Correspondent

HE was born and raised on the family farm in Co Kerry and spent his early years walking behind two work horses ensuring that his furrows were as straight as the barrel of a gun. And had he the price of a tractor, he never would have left there.

That's what the hundreds of mourners who attended the funeral Mass of the legendary property developer, John J Byrne were told yesterday.

In a fitting tribute to his father, whom he said had continued working right up until the moment of his passing at the age of 93 last Tuesday evening, John Byrne Jnr gave those gathered in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook a brief and wonderful glimpse into the life and achievements of a proud Kerryman who along with so many of his generation had left Ireland to seek their fortune in war-torn London.

It was to be some 20 years later before he came back here at the request of the then Taoiseach Sean Lemass to "try to get things going".

And get things going he did.

Referring to the way in which his father had transformed the Dublin skyline, Mr Byrne Jnr said: "He built O'Connell Bridge House which had planning permission for 17 storeys, but he decided to stop at 11 because he felt it was enough, in turn pointing the way to modern Dublin."

And while there are those who would argue still over the value or otherwise of John Byrne's contribution to the architecture of the capital, there is little doubt that his was an important contribution to the economy of the modern state Sean Lemass was trying to create.

Recalling Mr Byrne's return to Dublin, former Fianna Fail senator Donie Cassidy told the Sunday Independent: "Minister Jim Ryan was sent to London by Sean Lemass to meet John and ask him to come back and build O'Connell Bridge House. He came back and built it so that Jim Ryan and the government of the day would have something good to announce in the budget that year.

"He was a true pioneer and a patriot who came back at that time and invested his hard-earned money from the war years in Dublin so the government would have a chance of one positive announcement in the budget of 1960. I came here to pay my respects to him today. It's a very sad day for Ireland."

Mr Cassidy, who first met Mr Byrne at his famous Galtymore dancehall in London's Cricklewood on New Year's Eve in 1964, was just one of the numerous figures from the worlds of politics, business entertainment and sport who attended yesterday's funeral.

Among the other mourners joining Mr Byrne's wife Ciara, their five daughters and three

Obituaries Page 37

sons at the Mass, which was celebrated by Father Paddy Byrne, were former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave; the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey's sons Sean and Ciaran; Bovale Properties chief Mick Bailey; property developer Harry Crosbie; bespoke tailor Louis Copeland; businessman Niall O'Farrell; accountant Des Peelo; and former Dublin city manager Frank Feely.

In attendance from the world of entertainment were former Westlife stars Shane Filan and Nicky Byrne and MCD Productions chiefs Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey.

Also there but maintaining a discreet presence both inside and outside the church were Irish rugby legend Brian O'Driscoll and his wife, actress Amy Huberman.

While the Mass itself was traditional, there were nods at various moments to Mr Byrne's native Kerry, a place for which he maintained an enduring love throughout his life.

Indeed, at the outset of his eulogy delivered after Communion, Mr Byrne Jnr recited from memory the words of Sigerson Clifford's famous poem, I am Kerry in recognition of that love

Its penultimate verse is particularly poignant and especially relevant to the rich and achievement-laden life of John J Byrne, a pioneering businessman who himself declared how he never would have left Kerry had he the price of a tractor to keep him there.

It reads:

I should have put a noose about the throat of time,

And choked the passing of the hob-nailed years,

And stayed young always, shouting in the hills,

Where life held only fairy fears,

When I was young my feet were bare,

But I drove cattle to the fair.

Sunday Independent

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