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Lise Hand: Sorrow mixed with gratitude as family and friends bid a final farewell

THE bright sunshine battled with the strong chill wind which blustered through Shanganagh Cemetery yesterday afternoon -- the weather was as mixed as the emotions of those who had accompanied Garret FitzGerald on the final journey of his long, adventurous life.

For mingled with sorrow was gratitude for his unwavering commitment to his country and admiration for both his indefatigable intellect and his avuncular kindness.

And there was something fitting about the modest ceremony, free from pomp, rhetoric or fanfare, which marked the end of such a rich life. Instead it was a simple burial, a chance for some quiet reflection on the massive upheavals and changes to Irish society which Garret had witnessed -- or played a part in -- throughout a career that spanned over five decades.

Many of the trappings of a state funeral were absent from his burial -- there was no oration at the graveside, no 21-gun salute or any sort of military display.

And even his burial place isn't a stone city of high Celtic crosses or marble mausoleums, but the quiet extension to the sprawling cemetery just outside Shankill village. And his grave nestles in the middle of a row of plots marked only by small headstones -- including, next to his resting place, the grave of Joan, his beloved wife of 52 years who died in 1999.

After the funeral Mass in the Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook, his coffin was escorted to the cemetery by 18 army motorcycle outriders.

And once again the people came out to show their respects, like the 20,000 who filed past his remains in the Mansion House on Saturday, and also the hundreds who crammed into the church or stood outside in the rain as the funeral Mass took place yesterday.

The N11 was lined with citizens who wanted to pay their last respects to the former Taoiseach, as the funeral cortege slowly made its way to Shankill.

Although it was a large public show of affection that delayed the arrival of the cortege by almost an hour, the timetable-loving Garret probably would've shaken his head of wire-wool hair and unleashed a trademark "oh dear" at the tardiness of it all.

There were already over 200 people gathered around the grave by the time the final formal procession got under way.

The hearse, strewn with wreaths, passed a guard of honour of 106 army personnel from the 4th Infantry Battalion, the 1st Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Cavalry Squadron and the 1st Southern Brigade Training Centre, as an army band played 'A Celtic Lament'.

Before the coffin, draped with the Tricolour, was removed from the hearse the last groups of mourners took their places.

A large contingent of government ministers arrived en masse, including former Taoiseach John Bruton and his wife Finola, Finance Minister Michael Noonan, Justice Minister Alan Shatter, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton and Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.

They were joined by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his wife Fionnuala, and then by President Mary McAleese and her husband, newly nominated senator, Martin McAleese. Finally Garret's family took their places -- his three children Mary, Mark and John and his 10 grandchildren.

And then Garret's coffin was carried to the grave by eight military policemen, who removed the Tricolour from the coffin of this great patriot and painstakingly folded it and presented it to his daughter Mary.

The prayers over the grave were conducted by the chief celebrant, Dr Enda McDonagh, who was described by one FitzGerald family member as Garret's "closest adult friend". And he offered prayers for "all those who rest in this cemetery, especially Joan who lies beside him" before he brought the brief ceremony to a close.

As she left, Mrs McAleese and the Taoiseach exchanged some sombre words and handshakes with the grieving family.

The depth of his love for the younger scions of his clan was poignantly evident by the tears shed by the group of grandchildren who clustered together for support.

The solemn faces of Mrs McAleese and Mr Kenny were in such a stark contrast to the extraordinary, uplifting week that had just passed.

But then vital bricks in that winding road that led to the state visit by Queen Elizabeth had been laid by Garret FitzGerald in the 1980s.

During the course of the funeral Mass it was revealed that Garret had heard the queen's speech at the state dinner.

Perhaps it gave him solace to hear the final declaration of peace, for he -- more than most other political figures of his time -- was a man able to bow to the past, but not be bound by it.

There may be an epitaph on his headstone eventually, although his modesty may forbid it.

But perhaps a fitting one for the grandfather to our nation can be found in the words of Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of America.

"My country is the world, and my religion is to do good."

Irish Independent