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Great and good greet remains as Garret's final journey beckons

THE spontaneous applause was stilled and replaced by the sombre tap of soldiers' boots as Garret FitzGerald's tricolour-clad coffin was carried through the pouring rain and into the Church of the Sacred Heart in Dublin 4 last night.

"Your loss is very public, but your grief is private," said Fr Martin Clarke, parish priest of the Donnybrook church told the former Taoiseach's family, sons John and Mark, daughter Mary, their spouses and children.

"We are gathered here to pay tribute to an extraordinary man," he began.

Then he united the themes of the week -- the visit of a Queen and the death of a statesman.

"This has been an extraordinary week for this country, a week in which we have all experienced great joy on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland, but a week of sorrow because of the loss of Garret FitzGerald.

"The Queen's visit was a rousing success, she was made welcome by the vast majority of the Irish people and it was a watershed in Anglo-Irish relations -- one of the high points was Dublin Castle and the wonderful speeches of President Mary McAleese and Queen Elizabeth, but within hours Garret FitzGerald was called to God.

"There was a certain significance in that -- Garret FitzGerald's commitment to peacemaking, and particularly around the Anglo-Irish Agreement, made the Good Friday Agreement possible and laid the foundations for the wonderful peace we have today."

He spoke of the great gentleman that the former Taoiseach was and the things that have been said and written about him since his death.

"Unlike Garret himself, we are beginning to run out of words," he concluded.

Prayers were then said for the repose of the soul of Dr FitzGerald; and he was now united "with his beloved wife Joan". As the rain lashed outside the crowds began filing down the centre of the aisle to pay their respects.

First came President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, then the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, former President Mary Robinson and her husband Nick, and then the former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave, looking frail, but with a twinkle in his eye, accompanied by his daughter Mary.

Then came various members of the Government, including Eamon Gilmore, Michael Noonan, Jimmy Deenihan, Frances Fitzgerald, Alan Shatter, Joan Burton and Lucinda Creighton.

If the ordinary people had trooped through the Mansion House all day yesterday for Dr FitzGerald lying in state, it was the great and the good who waited to greet his body at the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook.

There was: his friend and former Attorney-General Peter Sutherland; Jack O'Connor, the head of the trade union Siptu; former Labour TD Brendan Halligan; Patrick Honohan, governor of the Central Bank; former TDs Ivan Yates and Jim O'Keeffe; John Hegarty, provost of Trinity College; Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin; and Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten.

Also present were: businessmen Des and Ulick McEvaddy; Chris Comerford, the former head of Irish Sugar; David Begg of Ictu; former ambassador Sean Donlon; Tom Savage and Terry Prone; broadcaster Marian Finucane; and John Clarke.

Among the members of the judiciary were: John McMenamin; Niall Fennelly; Peter Kelly; Bryan McMahon; and Frank Clarke. The army was represented by Lieutenant General Sean McCann.

The church was full but the ceremony low-key as Fr Clarke, dressed in purple, received the remains of Garret FitzGerald. Fr Enda McDonagh, a friend of the family who will say the funeral Mass today at 2.30pm, read a lesson.

A few weeks before his death, Garret said he wanted his funeral in Donnybrook church. "I am so pleased we have the honour of welcoming him home here," said Fr Clarke. "Thank you for the gift of Garret FitzGerald, someone who has enriched the life of our country."

As darkness fell over Dublin 4, the people who knew and loved the late Garret FitzGerald were still filing past his tricolour-draped coffin, paying their last tribute to a man who has certainly done the State some service.

Sunday Independent