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Saturday 25 November 2017

Thousands bid farewell to 'wonderful statesman'

Former Taoisigh join long queue to pay their respects

TRIBUTES: The remains of Garret FitzGerald carried from the Mansion House last night, as his children John, Mary and Mark and other family members follow. Photo: David Conachy
TRIBUTES: The remains of Garret FitzGerald carried from the Mansion House last night, as his children John, Mary and Mark and other family members follow. Photo: David Conachy
At the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook mourners included President Mary McAleese and her husband Martin. Photo: Tony Gavin
Former President Mary Robinson and her husband Nicholas. Photo: Tony Gavin
Former Attorney-General Peter Sutherland. Photo: Tony Gavin


THOUSANDS of people joined a fast-moving queue in Dublin's Mansion House yesterday amid a light patter of rain to pay their respects to Dr Garret FitzGerald. At one stage so many turned up they ran out of condolence books.

Politicians of all hues, many from Fine Gael, members of the media and the arts community, and people from all walks of life and of all ages came to say a last goodbye.

When asked why they came, many had the same answers -- he was a statesman, he was honest, he initiated the peace process, he helped in liberalising the country.

The Mansion House, where Dr FitzGerald was lying in state, had been due to open at 11am but so many people turned up that staff allowed people in early.

The doors at the Mansion House closed at 7pm to the public, ahead of the arrival of the FitzGerald family. Taoiseach Enda Kenny, accompanied by his chief of staff Mark Kenneally, arrived moments later and was greeted by Dublin Lord Mayor Gerry Breen.

Dawson Street was brought to a standstill and despite the rain, several hundred people gathered outside the Mansion House.

Just before half seven, eight Irish Army coffin bearers marched into the Mansion House, as 10 escort bearers filed in formation around the waiting hearse.

Following a short private family ceremony, the coffin, by now closed and draped in the national flag, was carried solemnly out the front door.

As the bearers made their way down the front steps, they were met with a spontaneous round of applause from the large crowd.

With tears in their eyes, three generations of the FitzGerald family followed the coffin to the hearse before it made the short journey to Donnybrook.

As soon as the cortege departed, the applause began again and the heavens opened.

Earlier in the day, former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was one of the many politicians to pay their respects with his wife Kathleen. "He was respected by everyone. I myself had great respect for him. We were good friends," he said. Mr Reynolds said he had known Dr FitzGerald since 1977, when Mr Reynolds won a seat in the general election in Longford-Westmeath.

An emotional John Bruton paid a warm tribute to Garret FitzGerald, saying it was like losing a family member.

The former FG Taoiseach-turned-IFSC ambassador said: "It's very sad, he'll leave a huge gap, it's like losing one of your own family. His legacy is immense not only in shaping Ireland's role in Europe, but also his commitment to redefining the relationships between North and South."

"He was a true diplomat and had the respect of the country. I met him 40 years ago at a wedding and he was a very friendly man," recalled Anthony Forde, from Castleknock, there with his wife Mary.

Pat Rochford, from Lucan, said she had also great respect for the former Taoiseach. "He was decent, he was honest. We could do with more like him now," she said. She added: "I never got to meet him, but he was a great feminist."

David Proger, from Delgany, Co Wicklow, described him as a "wonderful statesman". He added: "I used to see a lot of him when I worked in town. But I think his legacy will be that he began the peace process."

Kevin O'Brien, from the Athlone branch of Fine Gael, said he was a long-time friend of Dr FitzGerald and his wife Joan. He said it was probably too soon to outline his legacy, but be believed it would be the peace process, and his honesty and truthfulness.

Lord Mayor Gerry Breen, said he believed it was the first time since 1927 -- when Kevin O'Higgins was murdered -- that a politician had lain in state there.

He recalled he had joined FG in 1981 and Dr FitzGerald's influence had played a major role in that. "It's fitting that he is in a civil place, rather than a private place. This is really a celebration of his life," said the Lord Mayor, who added at least 20 books of condolence were filled.

• Dr FitzGerald's funeral Mass will be held at Sacred Heart Church, Donnybrook,Dublin, at 2.30pm today. Burial will then take place in Shanganagh Cemetery, Old Bray Road, Shankill, Co Dublin. The funeral cortege is expected to arrive at around 4.30pm.

Sunday Independent

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