Widespread tributes have been paid to the charismatic former publican and Wexford Light Opera Society star Des Whelan who died suddenly last week.
Des, the former owner of The Wicked Swan in the Faythe and O Faoláin's in Monck Street was a talented and award-winning singer and stalwart of the stage in Wexford over many years.
In a tribute to one of its most enduring stars, the Light Opera Society described his passing as 'the saddest of blows' and said Des, a life member, 'will always be remembered for his caring words and wisdom, his wit and amazing sense of humour, his ability to seek out new talent and nurture them and his mentoring of so many of our members.
'He was always willing to lend a hand and support WLOS in any way he could and leaves behind an incredible on-stage legacy for us all to cherish. His contribution to WLOS was insurmountable. He was a legend to all of us'.
Extending the Society's 'heartfelt and deepest sympathies' to his family, the chairman Eric Hayes said Des was instrumental in the success of Wexford Light Opera both on and off the stage as a performer, former committee member, chairperson and AIMS delegate. He served on the Society's Centenary Committee in 2011 when it celebrated 100 years in existence.
The WLOS chairman said he would be fondly remembered by people who shared the stage with him for his 'sheer talent and his storytelling musical genius.
'We are beyond devastated that another one of our dear friends and members has been taken too soon,' he said.
Members of the Wexford Society lined the route in a guard of honour as the funeral cortege travelled from Bride Street Church to Macken's Funeral Home after the Requiem Mass last Thursday and gathered in the grounds of Macken's to sing the WLOS signature song Anthem from Chess in an emotional final tribute to Des.
Members of other musical societies from around the country were also in attendance along with the President of AIMS Rob Donnelly.
A native of Wexford, Des grew up at Magdalen's Terrace and Bernadette Place, the youngest child of Bill and Mary Kate Whelan, both of whom had sadly passed away by the time he was 14 years old. Following the death of their parents, he was looked after by his sister Hilda and her husband Jim.
He attended the CBS secondary school and in his early career, worked as a sales rep in the south-east for Beamish and Crawford.
He met and married Rita, the mother of his three children Emma, Stuart and Des Junior and the family lived first in St. Peter Square, moving to Barntown and later Mulgannon.
Des had harboured a wish to own his own pub by the time he was 40, an ambition he achieved on buying O Faoláin's (Irish for Whelan) in Monck Street (where T. Morris is now).
He later carried out extensive renovations on the licensed premises, opening a restaurant upstairs, which he named after his mother Mary Kate.
He spent his last New Year's Eve in the pub in 1999 before selling it in 2000 for just under £1.2 million. It was a record at the time with O Faoláin's becoming the first pub in Wexford to sell for over a million.
He bought The Wicked Swan in the Faythe in May 2001 and later purchased the house next door to facilitate an extension. He developed the pub into one of the most popular hostelries in Wexford and ran it for 14 years until 2015.
Both O Faoláin's and The Wicked Swan won countless awards in the Singing Pubs Competition during Wexford Festival Opera down through the years.
Des's singing talents first came to light when he auditioned for a school choir in the CBS, later graduating to performances with Wexford Pantomime Society in Dun Mhuire Hall.
He made his debut with Wexford Light Opera Society playing the role of the Narrator in 'Joseph' in 1977 and went on to appear in 29 productions with the society, mostly in the leading role.
An audience favourite with a voice 'as smooth as chocolate', he also appeared many times in the Society's hugely popular annual production of 'Hits from the Musicals' during Wexford Fringe Festival.
Des was cast in one of the leading roles as 'Isador Strauss' in this year's production of 'Titanic The Musical' which was postponed due to Covid-19. It would have been his 30th musical with WLOS.
Society members recall that his most memorable performances were in 1992 when he played 'Tevye' in 'Fiddler on the Roof' and in 1999 in the lead role of 'Don Quixote' in 'Man from La Mancha', an unforgettable turn which won him Best Actor and Best Overall Performance in the highly-contested Association of Irish Musical Societies (AIMS) Awards.
His singing association with WLOS earned him no less than 13 AIMS nominations over the years, the most recent being 'Best Comedian' for the part of 'Monsignor O'Hara in Sister Act in 2014, in which he played alongside his friend and co-star Siobhan Fawsitt.
In his early days, he also appeared on stage with the prestigious Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society in Dublin and with Gorey and New Ross societies.
Recently, he loved singing with his lifelong friend Ger Busher in Wygram Nursing Home, feeling that it was a chance to give something back. One of his most repeated phrases was: 'As my mother used to say, it costs nothing to be nice'.
During the lockdown, the pair recorded themselves performing a song in Ger's garden and sent it into the nursing home for the residents to watch.
Des who died last Tuesday at the age of 66 had been in Lanzarote with his wife Denise at the start of the lockdown and they had to cut short their holiday and return to Wexford early due to Covid-19.
Des enjoyed an opportunity to sing no matter where in the world he found himself. On a holiday to Denise's sister Pamela in Philadelphia, the family visited the Victor Cafe where the staff, all budding opera performers, sing for the diners as they eat and Des gave them some competition with his own renditions of Danny Boy and Carrigfergus.
Last October Des and Denise spent two weeks in Perth, Australia visiting Stuart and his wife Elaine and their children Joshua and Sofia and another fortnight in Wellington, New Zealand with Des Junior and his partner Mary. It gave Des great pleasure to see his sons happy and doing well.
During the funeral Mass celebrated by Fr. Aodhan Marken, Ger Busher sang the Joni Mitchell song 'Both Sides Now', a favourite of Des's, while members of WLOS including George Lawlor, Tony Carty, Pat Lawlor, Eric Hayes, Siobhan Fawsitt, James McDermott and Caroline Daly sang 'Bring Him Home' with musical director Fintan Cleary on the organ.
Stuart and Des Junior wrote farewell tributes to their dad which were read out by Denise's nephew Brad while his daughter Emma who lives in Leixlip with her husband John and their children Ed and Sadie, also delivered a eulogy.
Des Junior recalled being an extra in 'Fiddler on the Roof' when he was 11 . He loved being around his dad as he followed his passion with enthusiasm and commitment.
He said he was a great role model who was 'unashamedly and uncompromisingly himself'. He treated everyone the same no matter what their background. He didn't care if you were a millionaire or hadn't two pennies to rub together. If you were a good person and had a bit of craic about you, you were his friend. Des Junior said this was the quality of his dad's that he stived most to live up to.
Stuart described ' the big man' as 'my father, hero, role model, boss, favourite singer and most of all close friend' who guided him through some of the greatest times and toughest challenges.
'Dad loved people and people loved dad. He was larger than life and his presence and personality has had a positive impact on more people than we know,' he said.
Emma who played his fictional daughter in 'Fiddler on the Roof' in 1992 said her dad was a complex person with a simple wish. All he wanted was peace for himself and happiness for the ones he loved. And he worked hard to achieve this.
' He was our dad but he was also so many things to so many other people. His performances brought joy to everyone lucky enough to hear him sing.'
His grandchildren also paid their own tributes with Josh saying : 'I loved the way he always dressed fancy when he was going out but he would wear old shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes when he was at home'. Sofia said Milo, her grandad's dog would always lick his face when he was on a video call to them; Ed and Sadie said their favourite things were the hugs and snuggles while Denises's nephew Leo recalled Des building block towers with him and then letting him knock them down just for the fun.
Des had sometimes mentioned over the years that when he died he wanted 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' to be played as his coffin left the church. Denise had informed him that this would not be happening.
But as the curtain closed on his coffin in Glasnevin Crematorium last Friday to the Monty Python tune, Des Whelan got his wish.
He is survived by his wife Denise; his daughter Emma; sons Stuart and Des Junior; his sisters Angela, Hilda and Gertrude; his grandchildren Joshua, Sofia, Ed and Sadie; his daughters-in-law Elaine and Mary; son-in-law John; his parents-in-law Johnny and Stella Moloney (to whom he was 'Desmondo'); his sisters-in-law Anita, Pamela, Tara, Dawn and Elizabeth; his brothers-in-law Michael, Phil and Brian; nieces and nephews and his extended family and friends.
He was predeceased by his brother Liam, sister Breda and her husband Paddy whose shop he lived over when he started to spread his wings as an adult.
He is also predeceased by his brothers-in-law Pat and Jim, nephews Erdie and Willie and by niece Lorraine.