Tuesday 21 November 2017

'I've fought a good fight . . . and I have kept the faith'

Claire Lenihan turned to her brother Tom for consolation yesterday as they buried their father, Brian, who lost his battle with cancer on Friday
Claire Lenihan turned to her brother Tom for consolation yesterday as they buried their father, Brian, who lost his battle with cancer on Friday
Mr Lenihan's wife Patricia and children Claire and Tom are comforted by Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Brian Lenihan's mother Ann is comforted at his funeral yesterday
Mr Lenihan's aunt Mary O'Rourke meeting mourners at St Mochta's church, Porterstown
Mr Lenihan's sister Anita and Conor Lenihan's son Brian
Mr Lenihan's brothers Paul and Conor escort their mother into the church

THERE were three words, former attorney general Paul Gallagher said, which went to the core of Brian Lenihan's lion heart.

"Duty, honour and country," he told the mourners, more than a thousand of them, who were packed into the small, pretty St Mochta's Church, who were crammed into the little front courtyard and who flowed out the gates on to the narrow road which winds through a quiet leafy corner of Brian's sprawling constituency of Dublin West.

"Those three simple words -- duty, honour and country -- those abstract qualities defined everything that he did," said Paul who was not only a cabinet colleague of the former finance minister, but also a close friend.

"They provided him with the courage to keep going, they provided him with the inspiration to achieve great things and they expressed what he valued. They propelled him to do things, not out of personal benefit, but guided solely by desire to achieve on behalf of the public, on behalf of us all."

Brian's burial -- a bit like the man himself -- defied simple definition. It was first and foremost a simple family funeral in a little local church, a low-key, no-frills, traditional ceremony.

The scripture readings were done by two of Brian's oldest friends from college days, David Lowe and Rory Montgomery (who is Irish ambassador to the EU), and the prayers of the faithful were read by family members -- his uncle Conor Devine, his brothers Conor and Niall, his sister Anita and another friend Frank Chambers.

There was no choir either -- instead the warm summer air was filled with the gentle melodies from two harpists, Theresa and Mary O'Donnell, and Mary Flynn's soaring solo vocals.

And with heartbreaking poignancy, each song and reading had been chosen by Brian himself and his wife Patricia as the sun began to set on his too-short life. Brian chose passages from the King James' Bible -- he often carried a Bible in his luggage as he went about his ministerial travels -- while Patricia selected a deeply moving verse from the Second Letter of St Paul to St Timothy for the second reading.

It was the line which read, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" which caught the breath of the packed congregation.

But this funeral also had resonances of a state occasion, as among the mourners were President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny and most of his ministers, and the wider Fianna Fail diaspora who had reunited to say goodbye to Brian after the decimated party's Great Scattering three months ago.

And the Tricolour had flown at half-mast atop state buildings while his coffin, draped with the national flag, was carried into and out of the church by eight military pallbearers.

For there was a universal sense that this was the funeral of a patriot, a man who didn't quit his post despite Fate dealing him a mortal blow, simply because the fight wasn't over -- not by a long shot.

And it was this sense perhaps which sparked applause from the crowd both inside and outside the church when his family arrived -- his bereft mother Ann, his wife Patricia and children Tom and Claire, his siblings Conor, Niall, Paul and Anita -- and again when his Tricolour-draped coffin was borne aloft to begin its final journey to the graveyard.

Political friends and foes mingled as they paid their final respects; there were two former Taoisigh, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, while Maureen Haughey, widow of the late Charlie Haughey, slipped unnoticed in a side-door of the church. Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams was there, as was the DUP's Sammy Wilson.

But even the sea of familiar faces was overwhelmed by the numbers of locals who had turned up to pay their respects to a politician who had worked indefatigably on behalf of the constituency he had represented since the death of this own father, Brian senior, in 1995.

In his homily, Fr Eugene Kennedy, retired parish priest and family friend, acknowledged how Brian had made a difference to the life of the community, and pointed to the tragedy behind the TD's support of the development of the new St Francis Hospice in Blanchardstown.

"The new Blanchardstown Hospice will remain a monument to his work -- what a cruel irony that he was amongst its first home-care patients," he told the congregation.

However, it was his close pal Paul Gallagher who drew an affectionate and vivid picture of the man he knew so well.

"Politics was Brian's very essence. He loved Fianna Fail, he was so proud of its achievements.

"Politics inspired Brian, it excited his every neuron, it permeated his every fibre," he said in his almost 30-minute eulogy.

He also spoke of Brian's onerous and often lonely tour of duty as Minister for Finance during the crisis years.

"He faced challenges of a most daunting kind, challenges that were awesome, that required immediate and decisive action, that provided no footprints to guide him," he said.

"He never once hesitated, he never once flinched from any decision, he was imbued with hope, he was imbued with confidence and he was imbued with courage".

Talking of Brian's illness, he said: "He displayed throughout a courage and fortitude that was amazing."

However, a few times during the eulogy, laughter echoed around the church, and it was the warm laughter of recognition at the pictures sketched by Paul.

"He did have faults," he pointed out. "If you were sitting next to him at Cabinet, he would invariably take your biros. They always went. I gave up the losing battle and brought a number of biros to Cabinet so I always retained one," he explained.

"I wouldn't mind if it'd stopped at biros, but it didn't. The papers were hoovered up, your notebook was scribbled on and taken and pages pulled out. And worst of all, your half-eaten biscuits were taken," he added, as laughter and applause rose to the blue skies.

That was Brian all over, nodded and smiled those who knew him. Funny and fearless, Lenihan the Lionheart fought the good fight, armed only with his borrowed biros and his big brain.

And his unwavering sense of duty, honour and country.

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