Heartbroken town salutes as Robbie 'gets transfer home'
GARDA Robbie McCallion finally got his wish -- a transfer home to Mayo.
And just before he was laid gently in the Swinford soil yesterday afternoon, his heartbroken brother addressed him directly.
"Welcome home, Robbie," said John McCallion quietly.
The words, uttered to the hundreds of mourners at the Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, drew a spontaneous round of applause from the VIPs who travelled long distances, from the gardai based at stations all around the country, and from Robbie McCallion's neighbours, friends and team-mates.
Nobody in Swinford had quite known what to expect from a State funeral. But then, nobody had expected that one of their own would be the centre of it either.
Many had arrived on Sunday evening for the removal from the McCallion family home on Park Road. Hundreds more began arriving from early yesterday morning.
An hour before the funeral Mass, the church was full. Every vantage point was taken, with loudspeakers set up in the church grounds for those unable to get inside.
The coffin lay before the altar, draped in the tricolour, with Robbie's cap perched on top.
His parents, Bob and Nancy, brother John and sisters Noirin and Deirdre were joined in the front row by his girlfriend Maria O'Donnell.
Just across from them sat Captain Niamh O'Mahoney, Aide de Camp to President Mary McAleese, and Commandant Michael Treacy, representing the Taoiseach.
Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy was joined by Assistant Commissioners Martin Callinan and Nacie Rice and by Commandant Brendan McNally representing the Army.
The Garda Representative Association President Dermot McCarthy and General Secretary PJ Stone were also present, along with Paul Hanna, representing the Garda Ombudsman Commission.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Sean Aylward were there to personally express their condolences.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, former Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte and Fianna Fail Senator Terry Leyden were among a host of local public representatives present.
The President's husband, Dr Martin McAleese, attended in a personal capacity.
Members of Swinford GAA Club, an important part of Robbie McCallion's life, lined the walls of the small parish church, immediately identifiable in their dark suits, white shirts and blazing red ties.
A total of 21 priests were joined by Bishop of Achonry, Dr Brendan Kelly, and Bishop Philip Boyce of Raphoe for the concelebrated Mass.
Chief celebrant, local curate Fr Derek Gormley, told the huge congregation that a great tragedy had fallen on the community and parish. Not one person locally had been unaffected by it and it had stopped everyone in their tracks, he said.
Even though everybody had known that Robbie was seriously ill and was getting the best of treatment, his death had shocked and stunned all. He was a man who had touched the lives of so many people in so many different ways, said Fr Gormley.
"Robert always seemed to have a smile on his face that showed his ease and comfort around people. He was a man who enjoyed social occasions. He loved being out with friends or colleagues to celebrate life and friendship," he said.
He had played for Swinford GAA Club since his under-10 days and wherever he was, he would return to train with his friends and wear the parish colours.
Just two days before his death he had returned to Swinford to train with his team-mates and had commented that he had never felt as fit.
He had joined An Garda Siochana in February 2005 and graduated in January last year. He loved Letterkenny where he was stationed and where he had met his girlfriend, Maria.
Fr Gormley noted the family crest in the McCallion home was translated as 'Do Not Forget'.
"Robert, we will never forget you, you will be forever young, vibrant, happy and forever smiling in our thoughts and memories," Fr Gormley added.
At the Offertory, the Tricolour and Garda flag were taken to the altar and lowered as trumpeters from the Garda Band played a fanfare.
Among the gifts brought to the altar were flowers in his memory from Letterkenny garda station and a book of condolences signed by the people of Letterkenny.
At the conclusion of Mass, Robbie's brother John, himself a garda, expressed his family's heartfelt thanks to all for the support and help they had received since news had reached them of Robbie's serious injuries.
John noted that while his brother's passion was for football, he believed it was only a front for Robbie to return to Swinford and visit his beloved parents.
He had a special word of thanks for all the emergency services and hospital staff as well as for the members of the PSNI who had escorted the ambulance through Northern Ireland to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.
John read a poem entitled 'The Thin Blue Line' written by an unnamed colleague of Robbie's at Letterkenny station.
Outside the church, more than 600 uniformed gardai lined up as the hearse was flanked by guards of honour formed by his Letterkenny garda colleagues and Swinford GAA team-mates.