Old fiery feuds laid aside at funeral of Harry Blaney

Politicians reflect on political battles of the past


A group of veteran Fianna Fáil stalwarts and Blaneyites gathered outside the Catholic church at Massmount on the beautiful Fanad peninsula overlooking Mulroy Bay waiting for the hearse bearing the coffin of Harry Blaney to arrive yesterday afternoon.

It was a cool day but sunny enough for the swallows to finally make an appearance. Time to bury some old hatchets.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was there in his long navy coat, but not part of this conversation. One former TD recalled how Harry Blaney had a competitive relationship with the Fianna Fáil senator and Letterkenny businessman Bernard McGlinchey, who died three weeks ago. They fought hard in those days of bitter Fianna Fáil and republican Donegal politics.

‘Blaney Country’
“I remember an election in 1973,” said the former TD. That was following the formation of Independent Fianna Fáil by Neil Blaney, Harry’s brother, after he was expelled from Fianna Fail over the 1970s Arms Crisis. “Bernard was running against Neil and the feeling was there was no point canvassing in Fanad because that was ‘Blaney Country’,” the Fianna Fáiler continued. “But of course Bernard went in anyway” with a Fianna Fáil cavalcade and left soon after when someone fired a shot at the entourage.

“Bernard asked Harry years later, ‘It was you fired it, wasn’t it?’ ‘No,’ said Harry, ‘and I can prove it’,” said the former TD.

“‘How can you prove it?’ asked Bernard. ‘I wouldn’t have missed,’ said Harry.”

The muted laughter was curtailed as the hearse pulled up and the Tricolour-draped coffin was brought inside the church. There was much reminiscing yesterday about the Blaneys, who have a unique place in Irish political history.

Peninsulas linked
The chief celebrant, parish priest Rev Patrick McGarvey, spoke of how part of the late TD’s legacy to Co Donegal was the Harry Blaney Bridge, which opened in 2009 linking the Fanad and Rosguill peninsulas across Mulroy Bay. The bridge was part of the “shopping list” Mr Blaney presented to Bertie Ahern to gain his support for the coalition of 1997-2002.

“God help God,” said Fr McGarvey, “because I am sure Harry has a list for him today too.”

Chief mourners were Mr Blaney’s widow, Margaret, daughters Noreen, Catherine, Breideen, Patricia and Noelle and his sons, Liam and Niall.

Noreen Blaney said her father, who died on Monday aged 85, was always happiest at home on the farm, despite his period as a TD, a county councillor and even in his younger days spending a period in Glasgow on a football trial for Celtic.

“He taught us to fight election campaigns and win,” she said, outlining his traits. “He taught us to be late for everything. He taught some of us how to drive fast,” she said, adding how the VW Beetles he liked to drive had a tendency to climb “telegraph poles and walls” with the TD somehow “always surviving to tell the tale”.

“Most of all he taught us not to stray far from home because he loved to have us around,” she said.

Harry Blaney was TD for Donegal North East from 1997 until 2002, when he retired from Leinster House to be succeeded by his son Niall. As a Donegal county councillor, Harry made sure the interests of his brother Neil were robustly represented at local level.

Niall Blaney had the blessing of his father when he ensured the old rift was ended and the Blaneys could re-enter the FF fold. Micheál Martin and former ministers such as Mary Coughlan, Mary Hanafin and Dara Calleary and MEP Pat The Cope Gallagher, Senator Paschal Mooney and Cllr Seán McEniff were happy to join the large funeral congregation.

“It is a great privilege to be here, to be with his family, in this beautiful part of Donegal to remember Harry and pay tribute to him,” said Mr Martin.