Farewell: Funeral director Robert Maguire at Mount Jerome, Dublin, where Covid-19 victim John Gallagher was laid to rest on Thursday. Photo: David Conachy
In normal circumstances the 86-year-old veteran activist would have received a huge funeral. But these are not normal circumstances. His funeral service was held in the Victorian Chapel at Mount Jerome Crematorium. Nobody came.
"Strange times," was a phrase used more than once on the day. The new rules to protect the health of the population in the pandemic stipulate no more than 10 people may attend a funeral.
But in many cases, family members of Covid-19 victims are obliged to isolate themselves from everyone so they cannot attend the funerals of their loved ones.
This was the case for the loved ones of John Gallagher. They were acting on advice not to attend. And the wider community continued to be confined to their homes.
The 'new normal' in Covid-19-era Ireland has banished the traditional Irish funeral.
Relatives and friends of the life-long bachelor witnessed the funeral by video-link streamed into their homes in Ireland and beyond.
'Colossus of the Liberties': Community leader John Gallagher 'had enormous integrity'
The video streaming began as the hearse left Massey Bros funeral home in The Coombe. Seated in the hearse were Robert and Peter Maguire, directors of the undertaker firm. No limousine, nor any other car, followed behind.
The hearse paused for a moment at Mr Gallagher's home in The Coombe. Then it continued through streets that normally bustled with the din of Liberties street-life. But the new 'stay home' rules rendered roads eerily silent.
The hearse paused again near a building that transformed into a thriving community centre through the efforts of Mr Gallagher, but it later ceased to operate. A small number of local people, standing apart from each other, were outside the building waiting for the hearse to pay tribute to their former community chieftain.
Among them was Bernadette Reynolds, who said there was confusion about the arrival time of the hearse but a large crowd will be guaranteed to attend a future event to honour him.
His death notice invited all who knew him to light a candle last Thursday and recall a happy memory of him.
The hearse set off on its journey to Mount Jerome, a lone black vehicle on the normally busy route to Harold's Cross, but city roads were relatively quiet with traffic-calming courtesy of Covid-19.
The hearse arrives at Mount Jerome. Photo: David Conachy
When the hearse swung through the cemetery gates, it moved slowly past the tombstones and crypts lining the way to the chapel. Undertaker Peter Maguire walked in front of the hearse. No one followed behind.
In the chapel, another funeral service was coming to an end and the handful of people attending it left in silence. Staff assisted in bringing Mr Gallagher's coffin into the chapel to the sound of a recording of John of Dreams. Seats had been removed since it was announced that attendances are limited to 10.
Two camera operators from Memorial Lane live streaming service powered on the wide-screen monitor which had a central position above the coffin in the building.
Reverend Hugh Gormley began the service without the physical presence of mourners and addressed those watching at home.
A number of pre-recorded items shown on the wide-screen in the chapel during the live streaming, included music, poetry, and a 'virtual eulogy' from his nephew, Professor Mark Lawler.
Professor Lawler, a Dubliner, works on cancer research at Queen's University, Belfast, on weekdays and he returns home to his family in Kilmainham at weekends.
Earlier, he told the Sunday Independent that his Uncle John had been a community activist all his life. After becoming ill, he spent his final years "in the exceptional care" of Hollybrook Lodge nursing home in Inchicore, Dublin.
Professor Lawler received a call last Sunday that his uncle had died. He went to the nursing home and was given personal protection equipment to wear during his visit to see his uncle's remains, including two face masks, gloves, and a body-length plastic garment which was the protocol for visitors.
He said he was informed the following day that Covid-19 had been discovered in his uncle's body. He did not expect this news.
The hearse carrying John Gallagher's coffin travels through Dublin's Liberties area. Photo: David Conachy
"Ironically, I'm actually co-ordinating the Covid-19 research response at Queen's University," he said.
Professor Lawler immediately placed himself in self-isolation at his family home. He, his wife and family watched the video streaming of the funeral at their home. Their daughters Emily and Sarah's beautiful rendition of Falling Slowly with guitar and flute was pre-recorded for the video streaming.
In his pre-recorded eulogy, Professor Lawler told viewers: "I welcome you all to this virtual gathering to celebrate John.
"John was a man of the people - everything he did in his life was to help people, and in particular, the people of The Liberties, who he loved. And boy did they love him," he said.
"The depth of emotion that we have experienced in the last few days with countless messages from far and wide shows that he had a very special place in the hearts of people.
"Our only regret is that we cannot be physically in the same place to pay tribute to a true colossus of The Liberties. But don't worry, when this public health crisis ends, as it will, we will have a celebration of John's life that will rival the funeral of Daniel O'Connell."
A school caretaker, his uncle served three terms on Dublin City Council. He was a fixture in the public gallery for 40 years, before becoming a Labour Party city councillor.
He paid tribute to his uncle's "stewardship of the St Nicholas of Myra Parish Centre in Carman's Hall, which he set up over 25 years ago and which was a haven for the people of The Liberties... Its closure was a disgrace," he said.
He had pivotal roles in setting up The Liberties Heritage Association, the local majorettes, and the children's Summer Project, and he managed a local schoolboy football team.
The empty chapel where John's funeral service took place - tributes played on a screen above the coffin. Photo: David Conachy
A poem, written by Christine Broe in 2007, entitled A Tribute to John Gallagher, included the recurring couplet: 'He's a Liberties man, he's a free man, Not fettered by fear or foe.'
After more music and readings, the recorded segment was brought to an end by Professor Lawler's moving rendition of The Parting Glass. He thanked the dignified professionalism of Massey Bros undertakers and Memorial Lane streaming service.
The day before the funeral, two Labour members of Dublin City Council spoke to this newspaper of their former comrade. Cllr Joe Costello said the veteran activist was "very ethical, very moral" who was a pioneering environmentalist who never used election posters. In normal times, he would have received "a huge funeral". Cllr Dermot Lacey said Mr Gallagher could be "ferociously argumentative but he was hugely principled and had enormous integrity".
"In all his years as a city councillor, he never once claimed expenses," he added.
Gallagher was at the centre of many campaigns and he defied a court order to end a protest occupation of the Wood Quay site where the remains of uncovered Viking-era buildings were making way for the council's new civic headquarters.
After the funeral service, Reverend Gormley said he had already officiated at cremation services of a half dozen people who died from Covid-19.
"These are strange times," he said, reflecting on the small number of mourners allowed at any funeral nowadays, no matter what the cause of death. And numbers at some funerals were even smaller when family members had to stay away in order to self-isolate. Sometimes he reminded people not to shake hands or hug.
Streaming services in the past were mainly for members of the Irish Diaspora in foreign countries.
But since the virus crisis began, streaming was mainly for 'The New Diaspora' - people who lived nearby.