'We have lost a woman with a beautiful mind and heart'
A sudden squall of hailstones hammered down on the funeral cortege of Nicky McFadden as it slowly travelled the short distance between the church and the graveyard in Coosan, a peaceful parish close to Athlone.
Walking alongside and behind the hearse were her immediate family and her Fine Gael family – the Taoiseach to the forefront of the sorrowful procession. Close by were the TD's son Eoin and her daughter Caren, who a short while earlier had stood on the altar and described her mother as "vivacious, generous, glamorous, selfless and wise".
The quiet grief was in stark contrast to the intensely stormy previous couple of days in Leinster House. However, the political turmoil had been stilled on Tuesday when the news broke that the immensely popular Longford-Westmeath deputy had lost her courageous battle against motor neurone disease.
Business in Leinster House had been reorganised to allow the 51-year-old TD's friends and colleagues to bid a final farewell yesterday afternoon and the pews of the Church of Our Lady Queen of Peace were full.
President Michael D Higgins sat in front of the Taoiseach; the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore arrived into the church with Justice Minister Alan Shatter, who took his seat between his Cabinet colleagues Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney; while dozens of deputies and senators were among the approximately 1,000 mourners at the requiem Mass.
Just after noon, the tricolour-draped coffin arrived and was carried to the altar, followed by chief mourners Eoin and Caren McFadden, Nicky's sisters Gab and Aine, brother-in-law Brian and grand-daughter Matilda.
It was a funeral service filled with affection for Nicky and also admiration over how bravely she had fought against her terrible illness. Chief celebrant Fr Declan Shannon told the congregation how Nicky had fought the disease since her diagnosis in December 2012 "with all the determination and fight she could muster".
"Determined that motor neurone wasn't going to define her, Nicky fought it with every fibre of her being but slowly accepted the gradual limitations it brought.
"Surrounded by the great love of family and the loyal support of good friends, Nicky knew she was not on her own – and neither was she," he said.
Fr Shannon spoke also of her life as a public representative, describing Nicky as "a woman with a big heart who possessed that special gift of making you feel that you were the only person in the world that mattered.
"They (her constituents) will remember Nicky, who took time to listen to their story, who could identify with their struggle and who could help them in their plight".
There were references to the deputy's love of fashion and among the several items representing her life which were brought to the altar was a high-heeled shoe – "memories of her glamour," explained Fr Shannon, along with a flip-flop to mark her enjoyment of holidays in the sun, a photo album and a parchment from Athlone Institute of Technology, from where she graduated with a Diploma in Legal Studies.
Her children paid touching tributes. Caren brought tears to eyes of many of the congregation with one simple sentence: "It may sound extraordinary, but it is true – she loved everyone she met and so she loved each and every one of you." Then Eoin read one of his mother's favourite poems, 'Beannacht' by John O'Donoghue.
"When your eyes freeze behind the grey window and the ghost of loss gets into you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green and azure blue, Come to awaken in you a meadow of delight" he read aloud to a silent congregation.
Afterwards, the men and women of Fine Gael formed a guard of honour to walk the last mile with Nicky McFadden to the local cemetery, a family plot where she was to be laid to rest with her mother Kitty, who died in 1993 and her father Brendan, who passed away last November.
Standing over her grave, an emotional Enda Kenny said, "We have lost a beautiful woman with a beautiful mind and a beautiful heart.
"Many of us here feel bereft at her leaving us, as a colleague, as a friend, as a neighbour, as a member of the Fine Gael party who served her constituents with dignity, with integrity, with care and with consideration".
His voice breaking as he fought back tears, he recalled the final time he had visited Nicky last week and he had pinned a badge from the European Council on her lapel.
"In response, there was the wink of an eye and a thumbs-up".
He also recounted how he had sat with her shortly before she received the final diagnosis of her illness.
"That young woman talked about her fears, her concerns, her anxieties of entering into a tunnel from which there was no escape," he said.
"Yet before the end of the conversation her courage shone through that she would deal with this.
"She was a person of immense courage, dignity and integrity."