Thursday 27 June 2019

'Wall of kindness eased brave Nuala's despair'

Nuala's partner, American lawyer, John Low-Beer, pets Nuala's yearold pet Labrador Mabel
Nuala's partner, American lawyer, John Low-Beer, pets Nuala's yearold pet Labrador Mabel
Nuala O'Faolain's relatives comforting one another after her funeral in Dublin yesterday
At the funeral of Nuala O'Faolain was her former partner Nell McCafferty

Nicola Anderson

Nuala O'Faolain found a way to die "as brilliantly, angrily and, finally, as calmly as she lived", her mourners were told yesterday by her great friend Marian Finucane whose interview with the author touched the nation.

Marian's words, delivered with the pain of loss, evoked tears in the packed Church of the Visitation in Fairview, Dublin.

On a bright, sunny May day they sat, many stood, some of them friends whom Nuala had loved in life.

But there were many mourners, ordinary people also moved by Nuala's searingly truthful radio interview with Marian last month when the 68-year-old woman revealed her terminal illness, and confessing her feelings of despair and fear.

What remained yesterday was a sense of deep peace. On a day of sun and warm breezes, blue skies, birdsong and the hauntingly beautiful music of fiddler Paddy Glackin and uileann piper Liam O Floinn, Nuala's family, friends and admirers united to pay a final farewell to "a woman of wit, grace and humour, a brilliant mind and a steadfast friend."

Chief mourners were Nuala's partner John Low-Beer of New York and her sisters Grainne, Deirdre, Noirin, Marian and Niamh and brother Terry, as well as nieces and nephews, and, in a poignant gesture, Nuala's dog, Mabel, was also brought along to the church.

In a deeply moving moment during the Mass, Nuala's brother Terry, broke down in floods of tears during a reading from St Paul's 'Hymn on Love'.


Writer and civil rights activist Nell McCafferty, Nuala's former partner of 15 years, also appeared emotional during the service for the woman with whom she had "split but never separated", as she described it.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen's aide-de-camp Cmdt Liam Drumgoole and Deputy Michael D Higgins were present, while writer Colm Tobin was among those paying tribute to Nuala from the literary and publishing world, as well as many from the media including Irish Times editor Geraldine Kennedy.

In her 15-minute, moving tribute to her friend, Marian Finucane described how a woman had come up to her at the removal saying: "I'm not really anybody, and I don't want to intrude."

The woman wanted to come down to the removal because she had been moved by Nuala's interview. A family member had recently been diagnosed with an illness and Nuala had expressed the fears no one else was able to. Describing Nuala as a great mind, Marian said her real brilliance was in taking complex ideas and expressing them in simple English -- accessible to all.

Before the radio interview, Nuala was "very distressed and distressing", Marian said. She was trying to cope with her illness, as she coped with other difficulties -- by speaking out.

But she had no idea of the profound and spiritual impact that interview would have. Listeners responded with a "wall of love and goodness".

Nuala was "ruthlessly truthful" and sometimes hurtful, Marian acknowledged. The publication of her memoirs, 'Are you Somebody?' must have been very difficult for her family to deal with, and she "saluted them" for their grace.


Talking about Nuala to others, she said the two things that people remember most about her were laughter and fun. In her years spent with Nell, the couple became part of Marian's extended family. The radio presenter became deeply emotional as she recalled how, when her daughter Sinead was dying, Nuala "minded" her and allowed her to talk through the most difficult things that nobody else would allow her to.

She described her deep shock when Nuala had mentioned a very large sum of money, set aside for her old age, bestowed upon Marian's Friends In Ireland charity for children affected by AIDS and HIV in Africa.

Nuala had found contentment with her partner John Low-Beer -- though they had their ups and downs -- telling Marian it had taken her all this time to learn how to live.

Nuala's "next book", said Marian, will be posthumously published in September.

The Mass was celebrated by Fr Joe Connick, while Fr Enda McDonagh gave the homily. She was overwhelmed by the reaction to her radio interview, Fr McDonagh said, adding: "Despair finds it hard to withstand gracious love and kindness."

With a sheaf of red roses on the simple wooden coffin, Nuala's loved ones followed her on the final journey to Glasnevin Crematorium.

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