Laughter lifts burden of bidding a farewell to Paidi O Se
Laughter rose into the chill Kerry air, drifting out on to the wintry blue expanse of Ventry Bay and its hazy horizon of purple-tinged mountains. There was one last story to be told – one for the road – before time was called on Paidi's final gathering.
Sean Walsh was delivering the graveside oration (the same former chairman of the County Board who had fired Paidi O Se as Kerry manager). Surrounded by the legendary native son's family and friends, he paid heartfelt tribute, describing the eight-time All-Ireland warrior as "unconquerable".
But then a few anecdotes crept in, as they have no choice but to do, and Sean found himself recalling how he and Paidi were once strolling the corridors of Government Buildings with then-Taoiseach Charlie Haughey who was on crutches.
"Did you break any bones during your career, Paidi?" inquired Charlie, to which he received a classic Paidi response: "No, no Taoiseach – none of my own".
Mingled with the grief, were the stories, the mirthful yarns, the tall tales, the weaving of the myths which will keep alive the memory of the Kingdom's own Ard-Ri long after he has been laid to rest in the picturesque cemetery overlooking his beloved Ceann Tra.
Stories of Paidi poured out from houses and pubs the length and breadth of every Irish parish where a ball is kicked, ever since the shocking news travelled the boreens and byways of Kerry on Saturday that Paidi O Se – inspirational, indefatigable, incorrigible – had died at home at the too-young age of 57.
All of them told of his deep love of Kerry, sport, life, Kerry, his family, politics, Kerry, Kerry, Kerry.
He died in the place locked most firmly in his heart, and yesterday thousands who knew him travelled down the winding western peninsula to Ventry.
Paidi was baptised, took his First Holy Communion and was married in this church. And no wonder he felt at home there – inside the weather-battered stone exterior, its walls are painted green-and-yellow.
And just before noon, his coffin passed through a silent guard-of-honour of current and former players from Kerry and the Gaeltacht, and some team-mates from the fabled green and gold band of brothers from the 1980s.
He was carried past a mosaic of faces – former rugby international Mick Galwey was a neighbour, and former Taoiseach Brian Cowen was a fellow connoisseur of the craic.
The funeral Mass celebrated by Fr Kieran O'Brien, former parish priest and friend of the O Se family, was in Irish, with music provided by Coir Cul Aodh and introductions to the speakers provided by another local legend, Micheal O Muircheartaigh who hails from just up the road.
Atop his coffin were mementos of his eventful life – a Kerry jersey, a pint glass, a CD of traditional music by Sean Potts, a copy of his own book, simply entitled 'Paidi'.
Fr O'Brien spoke of the profound sense of loss felt by everyone, but particularly by his wife Maire, daughters Neasa and Suin, son Padraig Og. He recounted how after his brother Micheal died, leaving four young sons Darragh, Tomas, Marc and Feargal, Paidi "took it upon himself to look out for his lads".
They had all lost "a person of great humanity who had a deep understanding of the difficulties of life; he was a proud Kerryman that had great respect and knowledge of his heritage," he said.
But like the sun follows rain, laughter follows a lament. It's the Kerry way. One by one, friends and family fought their grief to stand on the altar and tell a tale of Paidi.
His young son Padraig told the packed congregation that he found it hard to tell a story of Paidi, "simply because there are so many to tell. All I can say is that every passing story of Paidi brings a smile".
Paidi's friends were well-represented – among them, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, GAA President Liam O'Neill, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, members of the Haughey family and famous faces from the world of Gaelic football from all over Ireland.
President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were represented by their aides-de-camp Col Brendan McAndrew and Commdt Michael Treacy.
There was also a strong presence from Kerry players including legends of the game from the 1950s, Mick O'Connell and Tom Long – Paidi's first cousin.
Kerry footballers past and present lined out to form a guard-of-honour that included Paidi's teammates from the golden era of Kerry football, the Spillane brothers, Ger Power, The Bomber, Jimmy Deenihan, Mikey Sheehy, Jack O'Shea, Charlie Neligan, Ambrose O'Donovan, Timmy Dowd, John O'Keeffe, Ogie Moran, Ger Lynch, Ger O'Keeffe – names familiar all over the country.
Paidi's club An Gaeltacht made up the guard-of- honour on the opposite side wearing armbands in their club's red and white colours.
Paidi's brother Tomas sparked laughter and applause when he spoke about his friendships with several former Taoisigh, Charlie, Bertie and Brian Cowen.
"All his friends had what you call the X-Factor – they were specialists in some line . . ." he explained.
A fountain of stories flowed from his nephews. Marc told of how, during a visit to the bar in Old Trafford after a Manchester United match, Paidi marched up to Alex Ferguson and thrust a copy of his book into his hands. "Give that an aul read," he told the bemused manager.
But it was his close friend, broadcaster Micheal O Se who reached for the skies to describe his loss.
"He will always be our greatest hero of all time. I'm sure the passion, the fire, the animation, the free spirit that once drove this Colossus to become the stuff that dreams are made of, will in due course shine forth in his own family".
Then after the Mass, Paidi began his final journey to the graveyard.
But there was one last piece of eloquence by Paidi, even after death had stilled him. As the undertakers prepared to lower his coffin into the ground, one removed the green and gold jersey draped over the casket and handed it to Maire. She shook her head. And his beloved colours went into the grave with him.
He is of Kerry. Always was, always will be.