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London's exiles bid farewell to monarch in their midst

The Irish in London whom they don't write about any more when they write articles about the Irish in London filled the Sacred Heart Church in Kilburn on Friday.

They came down from Cricklewood, where Tony Grealish had played Gaelic football with St Agnes GAA club, and they came from Paddington.

On the Kilburn High Road, they finished their drinks in the Kingdom, they finished them in the Lock Tavern and in the Black Lion. They finished their drinks in the Flora on the Harrow Road and in the Beaten Docket in Cricklewood, and they headed for the church. Afterwards they repaired to the same places to reflect on an extraordinary life, a life that was so like their own while being a triumph for every Irishman in London who never made it out of Kilburn.

The funeral mass for Tony Grealish was held in the same church that Tony Grealish had received his first communion and in which he had been confirmed.

The mass mourned the loss of a man who died too young but celebrated a life of glory and success, and a reflected glory for the people of Paddington, Kilburn and beyond who knew Tony Grealish or felt they knew him.

The Sacred Heart Church could have been anywhere in Ireland, any time in the last 50 years, even if the two Rastafarians standing at the back of the church reminded us that we were in Kilburn, in its glorious multi-cultural world.

The funeral mass was a story of Tony Grealish's life and of the London Irish he represented so magnificently before he died on April 23 at the tragically young age of 56.

"He was a great man, a wonderful man," Liam Brady said outside the church. Brady had listened to the eulogy by Ambrose Gordon with fascination as he told the story of this man born in Paddington but born in Ireland too.

Ambrose Gordon recalled Tony Grealish's early days playing Gaelic football and the development of his football talent, the trials with QPR and others before the move across London to Leyton Orient.

It was easy to imagine how those in the congregation – one or two wore Ireland shirts – would have celebrated this triumph as their triumph, and rejoiced as this son of London, Galway and Limerick walked out at Wembley, a couple of miles up the Harrow Road, for Ireland.

His mother Nora led the mourners and the mourning enveloped a whole community. Those who had ever questioned the right of the English-born to play for Ireland should have been in Kilburn on Friday.

Grealish had played Gaelic football at Wembley before he played football for Ireland at the same ground. He would then captain Brighton in the 1983 FA Cup final. There was a reminder of that day when the congregation sang Abide With Me, the Cup final hymn.

They sang The Fields of Athenry as his coffin, with an Ireland cap and Ireland jersey draped over it, was taken from the church down the Kilburn High Road and

along the Harrow Road to Kensal Green cemetery.

Old football men, among them Cyrille Regis, Jimmy Case and Danny Wilson, attended, with the FAI represented by Michael Cody.

The FAI will honour Tony Grealish in June but the real tribute will be at Wembley at the end of the month when Ireland play England.

Friends from football and music recalled the life of the generous and loving man, a famous Irish footballer but primarily a son, a brother, a, husband, a father and a grandfather.

Later friends would gather in the family pub, the Flora. As the congregation walked away, a man in his late 60s, wearing an Ireland jersey, walked from the church into the Lock Tavern.

The Kings of the Kilburn High Road mourned their lost prince.

Irish Independent