THE "white beams" of our lighthouses called his mother Eithne home, Enda Kenny told a packed congregation at her funeral Mass yesterday.
The theme of the ocean was woven throughout the simple but warm and dignified service in the Church of the Holy Rosary in the Taoiseach's hometown of Castlebar in Co Mayo.
More than 8,000 people had paid their respects at the town's funeral home on Sunday, and yesterday about 1,000 mourners attended what the Taoiseach described as a "celebration" of the long life of his mother, who died on Saturday at the age of 93. She is survived by her five children John, Henry, Enda, Kieran and Maria and their families, including 11 grandchildren.
Among the mourners were former president Mary McAleese and her husband Martin and two former taoisigh.
John Bruton turned up with his wife Finola, and Bertie Ahern made one of his increasingly rare public appearances to offer his sympathies to his political adversary of many years.
And they came to Mayo from across the political divide, including Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, British ambassador Julian King and the north's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness.
Also attending were Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, ministers Joan Burton, Frances Fitzgerald, Ruairi Quinn, Richard Bruton, James Reilly, Leo Varadkar, Simon Coveney, Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, government chief whip Paul Kehoe, MEP Mairead McGuinness, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Colonel Michael McMahon, aide-de-camp to President Michael D Higgins, local councillor and close family friend Ger Deere and many TDs and senators.
And the congregation learned a little about the life of the woman born Mary Eithne McGinley in Glencolumcille, Co Donegal, on February 12, 1918.
Chief celebrant Fr Pat Donnellan, the parish priest of nearby Islandeady, where Mrs Kenny was buried alongside her husband Henry who died in 1975, described her as "a dignified and gracious lady. I do know that she was proud as punch that God blessed her with a son who was Taoiseach of our country," he said.
But Eithne Kenny also knew much sorrow. One of her two brothers, John Joseph, died at the age of five, and her own mother died when she was eight. Later, when she married Henry Kenny, she gave birth to eight children, but triplet girls Bridget, Henrietta and Margaret died in infancy.
However, much was spoken of the love this lighthouse- keeper's daughter had for her native Donegal, her home county of Mayo, and the mighty ocean which crashes against the shores of both.
At the offertory, two county flags were brought to the altar. "The Donegal flag represents her native county and her family before she came to Mayo. She never lost her love of Donegal, its hills, its people, the sea, the island of Rathlin O'Birne and the lighthouse where her father James served for many years bringing the fishing trawlers safely home," her son Kieran said. The Mayo flag hung from the Kenny home in 1936 when Mayo won the All-Ireland -- Henry Kenny played on the team.
Then her granddaughter Orla drew applause when she read a moving poem, again with the sea as a theme, which began: "A ship sails and I stand watching till she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says She is gone. Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all."
When the Taoiseach stood to give his eulogy, he began by talking about Eithne Kenny's lighthouse-keeper father "whose job it was to light that light -- the first and last post either leaving or entering Ireland, a point of contact, a point of safety, a point of comfort".
And he recalled how he had spent Friday night and Saturday morning aboard the LE Roisin, sailing from Cork to Dublin in a strong gale. "The thought struck me as we passed by Roche's Point and Ballycotton and on up the coast past Ardmore, and around by Wexford and Tuskar and Wicklow, that those lighthouses, built as marvels of engineering and instilled with a permanence, when they sent out their white beam of hope and comfort, it seemed as if they were calling her home. "And so it proved, standing on the deck of that boat I received the final message from Fionnuala," he told the congregation. "It was true, and home it is."
Before he concluded, Enda asked for a round of applause. "What I'd like you to do is not give it for my words, or for me, but give it for the mothers of Ireland, those who are gone," he said, his voice cracking with emotion, "those who are here."
After the Mass, the family remained in the church accepting condolences before taking Eithne Kenny to her final resting place beside her beloved husband. A silver-framed photograph of the couple had been placed on the coffin -- and it was clear Enda inherited his father's wide smile.
But our Taoiseach has little time now to grieve for his mother. For this country is in treacherous waters, and he has a ship of state to steer. Just like his grandfather James, he has to keep us from being dashed against the rocks.