Wednesday 21 August 2019

Flashback 1966: Funeral of President Sean T O'Kelly

This weekend 49 years ago crowds turned out for the funeral of former President of Ireland Sean T O'Kelly

Funeral of former President Sean T O'Kelly 1966
Funeral of former President Sean T O'Kelly 1966

Ger Siggins

Sean T O'Kelly was the second President of Ireland, and his long service as a revolutionary, politician and statesman merited a State funeral when he passed away on November 23, 1966.

"Drums rolled to the overcast skies and fitful sun as the band under Comdt James O'Doherty played Remember the Glories," reported the Irish Independent. "The air was moist and warm as tears and the stillness was broken only by the trundling of the cortège vehicles and the rustle of slow-marching soldiers, sounding their own secret requiem."

An active republican from an early age, O'Kelly joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was a founder member of Sinn Féin. He was appointed Staff Captain of the Irish Volunteers by Patrick Pearse and was aged 33 at the time of the Rising, where he served in the GPO.

He was arrested and jailed in Britain but escaped and returned to Ireland. He was elected to the first Dáil in 1918 and after a spell in the United States returned again to stand for the new Fianna Fáil party. The man from Dublin's north inner city served as Ceann Comhairle, Minster for Finance and Tánaiste before he stood for election as President in June 1945. He picked up just short of 50pc of the vote, beating Fine Gael's Seán Mac Eoin and independent Patrick McCartan. He served two seven-year terms and lived quietly in retirement until his death in the Mater Private Nursing Home aged 84.

His funeral mass at the Pro-Cathedral was conducted by the Archbishop of Galway, Thomas Browne, with the assistance of the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, and many more clergymen.

His widow, Phyllis, was chief mourner. O'Kelly had married her two years after his first wife, Kit, died in 1934. Kit had been assistant professor of modern languages at the National University. Phyllis, a chemist and public analyst, was Kit's younger sister.

A gun carriage carried the old rebel's coffin out to the cemetery in Glasnevin.

"Old comrades, sundered by civil war and dissension, stood shoulder to shoulder in a guard of honour at the grave of a man who, as president, appealed for the reunification of all Republicans," reported the Irish Independent.

At the graveside, veterans of the GPO garrison and the Citizen Army stood to attention as soldiers fired three volleys in the air before the Last Post and Reveille was sounded. Floral wreaths from President De Valera and the new Taoiseach Jack Lynch - he was barely two weeks in office - were laid at the grave alongside tributes from the British and Canadian governments, and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.

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