A quiet funeral for a brave man the big boys could not bury
Tom Gilmartin refused to be broken by the greed of a powerful elite
The remains of Thomas Gilmartin being carried for burial following the funeral Mass at St Michael’s Church, Urris, Co Donegal, yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
He was the man the men in charge could not bury. Yesterday, with love and pride, his family laid him to rest. For Tom Gilmartin had done the State some service – and undone some preening servants of the State in the process.
He was a young lad from Sligo who went to England in the 1950s, made his fortune and came home with the dream of creating jobs so other young lads might not have to follow that same emigration trail.
But it was 1980s Ireland and Tom was soon swallowed up by the resident political sharks.
Unlike countless others broken by the greed of this powerful elite, he refused to let them away with it.
Tom Gilmartin spoke out about the corruption he encountered in the system. His evidence to the planning tribunal opened up an ugly seam of patronage and payback involving individuals at the highest levels of public and business life in Ireland. And they didn’t like it.
He spoke from bitter experience in the witness box at Dublin Castle, doggedly sticking to his guns as top politicians, business smooth-talkers and grasping hand-greasers with pristine cuffs tried to take him down.
The indomitable Sligo man stuck to his guns – at huge personal cost – and emerged with his reputation enhanced.
The ordinary people in the public gallery applauded him.
But he got precious little thanks from the State for his trouble. It was a quiet funeral for the man the big boys couldn’t bury.
No ringing oration after his coffin was lowered into the ground in a tiny graveyard overlooking the Atlantic at the northernmost tip of Donegal.
Just prayers, a poem and a song.
Tom died last Friday. There were no Dáil tributes when the House reconvened yesterday after the weekend break.
Bloody tribunals. Embarrassing old relatives the two biggest political parties in Ireland would prefer to forget. They dismissed him and talked him down in Fianna Fáil. Tip-toed around him in Fine Gael.
But when the final report was published, Tom Gilmartin’s story was the one the tribunal believed, because when he spoke of large sums of money going to named politicians, those same amounts surfaced in the myriad of accounts maintained by these paragons.
He brought down Bertie Ahern, the most successful taoiseach ever in electoral terms and he brought an ignominious end to the overweening arrogance of Pee Flynn.
His evidence brought the likes of Liam Lawlor, George Redmond and Frank Dunlop to book, along with a supporting cast of strutting suits willing to spin any old yarn to support their threadbare testimony.
Tom is dead now. But he’s left a legacy more valuable than any plot of land ever fought over by the rezoning vultures.
Gilmartin reared his family in Luton, but he never lost touch with his home country, not even when it turned on him.
At midday, he was interred in the cemetery next to St Michael’s Church in Urris, a speck on the edge of the Inishown peninsula. It is his wife Vera’s home village, the woman he nursed through her illness while fighting his own battle with the powers-that-be in Dublin.
Vera was home too yesterday, burying the man she married from just down the coast in the village of Lislarry.
The night before in Sligo, at the church in Grange, a huge crowd turned out to pay their respects to Tom before he made his final journey.
The funeral was a normal Irish funeral – for family and community. A proper Mass, nothing fancy, but plenty of reminiscing before and after.
It is winter bleak and desolate now on the headland at Urris: breathtakingly beautiful but bitterly cold. The warmth in the small church embraced mourners as they crossed the threshold.
Before the Mass, Tom jnr delivered a eulogy to his father. He was always by his side on the days he travelled over from England to appear at the tribunal.
His words were well pitched as he painted a picture of the father he knew – how he loved telling stories of his childhood in Lislarry and how he liked his tea so strong that the spoon would nearly stand up in it. How he loved Vera and was a great dad. How he loved Ireland and Sligo and Donegal.
Tom jnr’s pride shone through his words as he told of how his father had to emigrate to find work and how he became a successful businessman in the UK. The usual stuff.
Except there was an edge. A sadness beyond the heartbreaking loss of a parent.
“Dad’s stubbornness could be an asset too,” remarked Tom, describing how his dreams of building major developments in Dublin ran into insurmountable obstacles.
”Unfortunately, my father was let repeatedly down by men for whom morals – moral scruples of the type my father lived by – were viewed as a weakness, ” he told the mourners.
When he told the tribunal about his experience, “he never wavered in his commitment to the truth, even when subjected to an extraordinary campaign of vilification. He would never perjure himself – even when it was disadvantageous for him to tell the truth, such was his honesty, so strong his religious faith. Dad loved his country as a proud Irish man. It truly grieved him, as the son of a man who fought for his country’s independence, to see the sacrifices of his father’s generation discarded by lesser men.”
In the church, people nodded. And Tom continued, as his siblings wept.
“It is a source of great sadness to us, his family, that Dad was never truly given the credit he deserved for what he did or the apology he was owed for what was done to him.”
Then he paused, and looked out over the congregation.
“He deserved better.”
The mourners hesitated at first. Then they burst into applause for Tom Gilmartin.
They said a decade of the rosary in biting cold in the shade of the Urris Hills and the family placed red roses over the coffin.
No amount of rezoning could replicate Tom Gilmartin’s burial plot with the mountains around it, Malin Head and Tullagh Bay below and, on these winter nights, a celestial show from the Northern Lights.
Because he deserved better.