U2 play tribute at funeral of radio DJ Tony Fenton

Band perform ‘Ordinary Love’ as who’s who of broadcasting world attend service

 

Not many people can persuade U2 to play at their funeral, but not many people are Tony Fenton.

The Dude, as he was affectionately known to his friends, planned his funeral from start to finish, beginning when he realised the prostate cancer he was first diagnosed with four years ago was terminal.

Fenton’s life was full of music and so was his funeral mass. Not only did U2 perform, but the Dublin Gospel Choir and Eurovision winner Paul Harrington, a long-time friend sang too.

The service was bookended by two of Fenton’s favourite songs, The Long and Winding Road by The Beatles and Say A Little Prayer, the Burt Bacharach song made famous by Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick. It was his favourite song of all time.

Shortly after the gospel, Bono, looking recovered from his painful bicycle crash in New York last November, and The Edge started into Ordinary Love, the Oscar-nominated song from the film Mandela. Then Adam Clayton joined in. followed by drummer Larry Mullen, playing the tambourine.

This was the first time U2 have played in public since Bono’s accident. Their performance was a pin drop moment. Fenton was an early champion of the band, with U2 and the DJ forming a mutual appreciation society for the last 30 years. In a yet to be broadcast interview with Fenton, Bono told him his popularity had “been more consistent for the Irish public than U2.”

At the funeral mass in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, many spoke of their affection for Fenton. “I don’t think anybody else in the world could have organised the biggest band in the world to play at his funeral,” said fellow Today FM broadcaster Mario Rosenstock to applause. “Fun, fun, fun are the words I think of when I think of Tony. He wanted everybody to have fun and he wanted to have fun himself. Only Tony Fenton could organise his funeral the day before the national public holiday. We can never duplicate The Dude.”

The chief mourners were Fenton’s partner Sinead, his siblings Paul, Ann, Colm and Kevin and his nieces and nephews Maggie, Bridget, Laura, Alex, Jack and Jordan.

There was plenty of laughter among the tears. Fr Brendan Kealy had the congregation rolling in the aisles as he imitated his old friend throughout his sermon. Fenton’s famous voice was the same off air as it was on and going for dinner with him was like listening to the radio, he recalled.

Fr Kealy, whose friendship with Fenton stretched back to the time before he became a priest, alluded to his sense of mischief and fun. “He was the king of the one-liners. Talking about Tony brings a smile to all of our faces. Tony would ring up on Monday and say, ‘hey dude, what are you doing next Friday. A few of us are going to Spain for the weekend’.”

There were moments of seriousness too. Fr Kealy said Fenton had “fought the good fight” against his illness and became religious as the end drew closer. “None of us ever heard Tony complain. He honestly accepted his illness. This was what God had wished for him. In his last days, he truly renewed his faith.”

Paul Fagan told the congregation his brother (Tony Fenton was born Tony Fagan) was proudest of being inducted into the PPI Hall of Fame.

As befitting a man who had 35 years of broadcasting experience, a veritable who’s who from Irish music and radio turned out for the funeral service.

Singers Andrea Corr, Mary Black and Dickie Rock were there along with Today FM owner Denis O’Brien, promoters Peter Aiken and John Reynolds, and Hot Press editor Niall Stokes.

Fellow broadcasters Ray D’Arcy, Ian Dempsey, Larry Gogan, Dave Fanning and Jenny Greene turned out as did chef Derry Clarke and restaurateur Robbie Fox.