Political funerals – an Irish art form
Deaglán de Bréadún
The positive side of Irish politics was on view at the emotional farewell to the late Séamus Brennan. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, the Greens - they were all there to say goodbye to someone whose engaging personality transcended political barriers. Such was the crowd at the church that it looked at one point as if even Bertie Ahern and Brian Lenihan were going to have to stand throughout the ceremony.
We do a lot of things badly in this country but we do funerals very well, especially political funerals. As chief celebrant, you could hardly get anyone more eloquent and thought-provoking than the distinguished academic Father Enda McDonagh. Not content with simply paying tribute to the deceased, he drew a moral from the story of Séamus Brennan’s life as he saw it. Politics is about public service and our lives have no meaning unless we seek to help one another.
It was generally felt that Brian Cowen spoke eloquently as well – in contrast with the day he announced the programme of cutbacks at the Government Press Centre. As always, there was a good “blasht” of Irish in his speech, and no apologies for it. We currently have the highest proportion of fluent Irish-speakers at the top level of Irish politics, probably since the foundation of the State: Cowen, Mary Coughlan, Brian Lenihan, Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore – and we mustn’t forget Éamon O Cuív. There’s hope for the old teanga yet.
But what differentiates the Irish funeral from such ceremonies elsewhere is the music. We had searing, soulful versions of The West’s Awake, Galway Bay and Dublin in the Rare Oul’ Times, played on the traditional fiddle. All of these were personal favourites of the former minister who reportedly sang them at political gatherings in his Dublin South constituency and elsewhere. One assumes that the inclusion of a great Dublin song with the West of Ireland numbers reflected his political prudence as well as his musical taste.
The entire congregation joined in for The West’s Awake, starting off in low tones, their voices rising from verse to verse. Written by Thomas Davis it is a heartfelt cry for liberty but also a celebration of Connacht and its people (http://celtic-lyrics.com/forum/index.php?autocom=tclc&code=lyrics&id=114). There are two versions of Galway Bay and this was the old, less-familiar one (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galway_Bay_Song). Although the present writer has a family connection with the author of the later version, Dr Arthur Colohan, it has to be said that, on the day of Séamus Brennan’s funeral, the old song was best.
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times