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Michael O'Doherty: My funeral experience made me realise saying goodbye to a friend need not be a lavish do

Like so many people I know, I was at a funeral last Thursday morning at 11am.

Sitting in a small church, filled to the rafters with 200 people, I witnessed a solemn ceremony for someone that had died well before their time.

I didn't know the person well, but was still touched by the grieving family and friends, the courage of the young children left behind, and the many acquaintances and well-wishers who had given up their morning to pay tribute to a life cut short.


The priest handled the occasion beautifully, never more so than when he concluded his sermon with the touching invitation to the churchgoers -- "let us now go together in peace, and follow our sister to her final resting place".

My cousin Geraldine McElwee passed away a week ago, having fought a long battle with cancer, and was buried in the small village of Blackwater, Co Wexford, at the exact same time as Gerry Ryan was being laid to rest in Clontarf.

There was none of what I call, with the greatest respect to the bereaved and their families, the 'black carpet' that marks some high-profile funerals. No one went to bed the previous night fretting over what they should wear lest the press cameras snap them. While the people who attended Gerry Ryan's funeral did so for the right reason -- to pay their respects to a good friend and an outstanding broadcaster -- I couldn't help but notice the element of 'funeral chic' in Clontarf last week, as veils were dusted off, dark sunglasses were donned, and immaculate black dresses were sported.

In St Brigid's Church in Blackwater, people came as they were. The women wore simple daywear. Some men turned up in jeans and leather jackets.

One elderly man, who arrived unaccompanied, wore a high-visibility jacket, over tattered trousers and a corduroy jacket. He'd been working the roads that morning, and simply put down his tools to go and pay his respects to Geraldine.


Nor was there a lavish wake in the Shelbourne Hotel following the Mass. No expansive buffet or selection of fine wines -- instead, the 200-odd mourners adjourned to the pub and toasted Geraldine over ham salads and tea.

Her relatives came up to me that afternoon to tell me how much my going down to visit her in hospital the previous week had meant to her, when her sisters and two daughters sat beside her bed, listening to her talk hopefully and bravely about a future that, deep down, she knew she'd never see.

And though the only name that appeared in the following day's papers, and the only person that Ireland seemed to be mourning, was Gerry Ryan, I was thinking of my cousin. Gerry was a great man who will be missed by many, but though I only knew her briefly, Geraldine McElwee is a person I'll never forget.

'No angel'? How deluded the parents and siblings of dead drug dealers are...

IN the same week that Gerry Ryan's family and friends were speaking so movingly from the altar, a leading member of Dublin's criminal underworld, Eamonn 'The Don' Dunne was also being remembered with fond words.

Obscene as it is to equate the two people, it reminded me of one of the sad realities of criminals and their families.


Reading a book a while back about the drug wars in Dublin of the past 10 years, I was amazed at the comments made by parents and siblings of convicted, or dead, drug dealers.

You expect them to be loyal, and to want to have something good to say about their flesh and blood, but the sheer blindness they display when talking about the disgrace in their ranks is breathtaking.

Even when presented with the most damning evidence of their miscreant sons, parent after parent reeled out the same line, starting with the admission that "he's no angel, but ... " before putting up a defence based on the fact that he was a good father, husband or son.

As though looking after a couple of family members means we should overlook the widespread misery they've spread.

And as though you have to be an 'angel' to avoid a life of crime.

It just goes to show how utterly delusional some parents can be despite any evidence to the contrary.

Why I keep wandering into the ladies' jack

TWICE in the past week or so I've walked into the ladies' toilet by mistake. On each occasion, there was a very simple explanation -- the aversion among modern premises for putting the words 'Ladies' and 'Gents' on bathroom doors.


For some reason, venues have decided that it simply isn't cool enough to label the respective toilets in an unambiguous manner. Hard-to-read 'M' and 'F' letters, the universal signs for men and women, Elizabethan-style portraits... Seriously guys, you're taking the p*ss.

Last week, I went looking for the toilets in a well-known spa. I was directed towards two doors, each with a bronze mask to one side. After a minute of staring at them, I could just about work out which was female, courtesy of the slightly rounder face and more pursed lips on one outline.

Even so, I entered gingerly as, this being a posh spa, I couldn't rely on the stench of urine that attacks your senses when you open the door of a gents in a Dublin pub. Sure, the signs looked magnificent, but can we just return to something simple that will save our blushes, and our bladders? Ladies and Gentlemen, please ...