Saturday 16 December 2017

Video: A simple goodbye to a great

It may have been a State funeral, but it was also a very family affair, writes Nicola Anderson

Dr Garret FitzGerald's coffin is taken from the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Dublin yesterday
Dr Garret FitzGerald's coffin is taken from the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, Dublin yesterday
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

IT was a state funeral -- but it was also much, much more than that. It was a sweetly simple, personal and truly meaningful farewell to a man who was well loved and held in high esteem by all who knew him -- from whatever walk of life they came.

Mourners at the funeral of Dr Garret FitzGerald heard yesterday how "by some miracle" the former Fine Gael leader, who had done so much to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Agreement, awoke "in his final agony" to see the culmination of what he had strove to achieve for so long, as he watched television footage of Queen Elizabeth and President Mary McAleese in Dublin Castle last week.

But perhaps just as important as all the pomp and military trimmings and the "big names" present at his funeral was a sense of the real man behind the public figure.

A photograph on the cover of the mass booklet seemed to capture his essence to perfection -- showing him poised, reading glasses in hand, in front of his beloved books and academic treatises, as a smile played on his lips and a twinkle of shrewd mischief shone in his eyes.

His distinguished career as Taoiseach and as a political and economic analyst, his towering intellect and the insatiability of his political appetite were all well documented.

The fact that he was a family man was also known.

But what we learned yesterday was that he was "fun and funny", built great sandcastles and made wonderful pancakes, doting on his 10 grandchildren and great-grandchild.

He was "the one and only person ever to get on a Ryanair flight without photo id", and once solemnly informed his grandchildren that his late wife, Joan, was afraid of flying because he used to read her the "Aer Lingus near-miss reports" while in bed.

This was the multi-faceted Dr Fitzgerald whose passing caused mourners to fill the Sacred Heart Church in Dublin's Donnybrook to overflowing yesterday.

By one o'clock, the church was already at capacity for the 2.30pm event and the coffin lay before the altar, draped in a tricolour with a bible and cross on top.

Mrs McAleese and Taoiseach Enda Kenny were present, together with five former Taoisigh -- Liam Cosgrave, Albert Reynolds, John Bruton, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen -- as well as Martin McGuinness, former SDLP leader John Hume and British ambassador Julian King.

Chief mourners were Dr FitzGerald's three children, Mary, Mark and John, and his 10 grandchildren and great-grandson. There were also extended family and friends, political and party colleagues and members of the judiciary. But plenty of those present were "ordinary citizens" who were "fans of Garret's".

Elderly people making their way with some difficulty on sticks, windswept mothers with children in buggies, the well heeled and the not so well heeled all congregated together in a democratic display of humanity that seemed to sum up the philosophy of the man himself.

Outside, the wind blew bitter and unseasonal gusts at those unable to make it inside, who watched on a screen.

Lifelong friend Fr Enda McDonagh told the congregation how they had come to celebrate the life and achievements and the "very wonderful person" of Dr Garret FitzGerald.

Mr Kenny gave the first reading and then two granddaughters, Reachbha and Laoise FitzGerald sang the psalm 'Mo gra thu a Thiarna' in a lilting harmony. A third granddaughter, Iseult, gave the second reading with the same trademark FitzGerald solemnity.

Then Fr Enda began the homily, saying this had been "an astounding week of endings and beginnings," describing Dr FitzGerald as "the outstanding leader of our recent history".

He loved the truth and the people whom truth should serve, the priest said -- adding that Ireland had recently learned this lesson in a "particularly harsh way" with the betrayal of the people's trust in politicians, bankers and developers.

Some politicians were "notoriously suspicious of intellectuals and do-gooders", said Fr Enda, adding that these terms had been used mockingly by Dr FitzGerald's critics.

However, he had been put "way beyond" this mockery, particularly with the outcome of the Anglo-Irish peace process, which culminated in the very last days of his life.

Prayers of the faithful were offered by former President Mary Robinson and by his former ministerial colleague Peter Barry, as well as by his grandchildren.

Offertory gifts included a photo of him playing with his great-grandson Andres, a copy of his autobiography and an Aer Lingus timetable. Instrumental piano music performed at Communion by distinguished soloist Hugh Tinney included a moving Chopin nocturne.

Then Dr FitzGerald's children rose to speak.

Son Mark, of the estate agents Sherry FitzGerald, quipped how there could be few people who would ask for the "latest exchequer figures while dealing with respiratory failure".

His father had worked for a modern, pluralist society -- but he had done it as part of a team, he said.

Son John, an economist with the ESRI, sparked laughter as he spoke of his father's "enthrall" for the work of the Central Statistics Office, thanking staff there for persevering with his father's requests for information over the past half century.

Daughter Mary, an artist, in a voice that shook with emotion, thanked her father for setting an example as a good citizen, parent and friend.

Throngs of mourners who lined the street outside broke into heartfelt applause as the coffin was brought from the church draped in the tricolour by military police, before Dr FitzGerald's remains were escorted by 18 army motorcycle outriders for burial alongside his beloved wife, Joan.

Irish Independent

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