An ordinary and extraordinary farewell to Albert Reynolds

Gifts offered by the former taoiseach’s grandchildren summed up his full life

The gifts offered at Albert Reynolds’s funeral Mass the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook yesterday. Photograph: Maxwells

The gifts offered at Albert Reynolds’s funeral Mass the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook yesterday. Photograph: Maxwells


The cards came out for one last time yesterday.

“My door is always open,’” he used to say. “The table is there. Varnished or unvarnished.”

For people to sit around and talk peace. Or maybe play a hand of poker.

Yesterday, the church door opened for Albert Reynolds and that table was there again, now draped in white linen with the gifts of his full life spread out on it.

Strangers might wonder: what class of statesman was he at all, with a deck of cards, a book of dancehall tickets, an old newspaper, a can of dog food and a well-thumbed race-card taking up so much space.

But then, they would see the photograph of a powerful politician in his prime, notice the substantial autobiography and – between a Gaelic football and a can of dog food – they would also see a framed and signed copy of the Downing Street Declaration.

And, pride of place among all this, one small black and white photo of Albert and Kathleen Reynolds and their seven children, taken in Longford in 1980, representing the happiness of one particular family and the father they love.

Oh, but they got a terrible day for Albert’s final send-off. The rain belted down. In some ways ironic, because he always loved the sun, yet the bleak weather mirrored the grief of a family bereft.

There is always a saying for times like this. Mourners looked to the teeming skies and the older ones smiled. “Happy the corpse that the rain falls on,” they said.

“Our hearts are broken” said Albert’s eldest son Philip, as he began his eulogy.

Marching band

For all the theatre of a full State funeral – the presence of the President and the Taoiseach, the military marching band, honours rendered at the graveside, archbishops and bishops, former taoisigh, a former British prime minister and a telegram of condolence from the pope – this was still an Irish funeral. But Albert style: ordinary and extraordinary.

The Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook was packed for the midday mass, with the congregation reflecting the vivid strands of the former taoiseach’s life.

So, alongside the huge attendance of politicians past and present and large contingent from the diplomatic corps, there were people from the business, entertainment and media worlds and a fair smattering of friends from Roscommon and Leitrim and farther afield.

The gifts left on the table by Albert’s grandchildren charted the course of his energetic existence – the inveterate dealmaker who went from railway clerk to showbiz kingpin to entrepreneur to politician, and a taoiseach who played a pivotal role in bringing peace to Ireland.

There was no surprise when Fr Brian D’Arcy was chosen by the family to be the main concelebrant of the funeral Mass. Brian is the go-to cleric for the world of Irish showbusiness; he is also a very old friend of the Reynolds family. He soldiered with Albert during the showband days.

He pitched it perfectly – if that is what priests are supposed to do. In his homily, he captured the essence of Albert with sensitivity, insight and no small amount of humour.

Humour had to be there, along with music.

The Palestrina Choir sang beautifully, as did Eimear Quinn, a former Eurovision winner for Ireland.

Red Hurley sang his heart out too. “That boy has some set of pipes,” whispered an old showbiz hand beside us.

When he sang How Great Thou Art during the Communion, some of the congregation began to sing quietly with him. There was, of course applause. For all the solemnity, there was a lot of applause.

The family members spoke of their great love for their Dad, or “Poppy” as he was called in later years. And they spoke movingly of how they were to lose him to Alzheimer’s in the last few years.

Soaring voices

Near the end, amid the soaring voices of the choir, Eamon Monaghan and Paddy Cole, of the old Capitol Showband, played Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore.

For those who knew those days, a million memories flooded back. Tears were wiped away and, in the pews, old shoulders in dark suits swayed.

After Mass, there was still time for swapping old stories before the family left for the graveyard. As the coffin, draped in the Tricolour was borne into Shanganagh Cemetery, the unrelenting rain on umbrellas made a sound like distant applause.

The soldiers folded the sodden flag carefully and presented it to Kathleen, who was supported by her sons Abee and Philip. She took it, and her hands dropped under the unexpected weight. “Thank you,” she said.

The family cast single white roses into the grave as the buglers sounded the Last Post and Reveille.

It was an unbearably sad scene. Then, in the rain, the mourners left.

The family put on a spread in the Four Seasons Hotel afterwards. That’s when the real stories were told.

Fr Brian’s parting words remained with them. “Albert, may you enjoy eternal peace, May you rest in peace. You were a man of peace.”