Longford meets Dublin 4 in remembering Albert Reynolds

People paid their respects to the late former taoiseach at Donnybrook church

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 09:06

At nearly 10pm on Saturday night, the queue to sympathise with an exhausted Kathleen Reynolds and her family was still moving slowly up the aisle of Donnybrook church.

The public element of the family’s day had begun more than nine hours earlier, when they accompanied the open coffin of the devoted husband, father and former taoiseach, at the Mansion House.

But even amid the pomp, solemnity and tight protocol of a State funeral, they remained faithful to the old country tradition of the bereaved remaining seated to shake hands and share whispered, wistful memories with old friends.

Michael McCrann, a family friend from Albert’s home place of Rooskey, noted the huge Longford contingent that had come to Dublin 4, amid the judges and lawyers, politicians, accountants, racing figures, business people, trade unionists and senior civil servants.

“Even though it isn’t a country funeral, it has all the ingredients of one,” said Derry O’Donovan, retired agri banker and contributor to Fianna Fáil’s infamous 1977 election manifesto – “just the agricultural element”, he stressed.

Town and country

Clearly, some thought had gone into reflecting both Albert’s midlands roots and his D4 years. It was noted that the young tenor soloist, Emmet Cahill, was from the Mullingar area and that undertaking duties were shared between Fanagans, the Dublin-based undertakers, and Mullingar’s Con Gilsenan.

It was a deeply solemn service, preceded by sweet, traditional laments on violin and piano as a stream of old faces from another era took their places in the top left-hand pews marked “Government”.

John Bruton was the first of the three former taoisigh to arrive, with his wife, Finola, followed by Brian and Mary Cowen, and Bertie Ahern, in a black corduroy jacket. “Oh can you believe it? Eoghan Fitzsimons,” murmured an old Reynolds stalwart in a none-too-kindly tone, reflecting residual resentment towards the lawyer who served as attorney general around the events that brought down the FF-Labour coalition and Albert Reynolds with it. At times like these, 20 years is only a few minutes ago.

Meanwhile, a whole political era drifted past in the form of Charlie McCreevy, Michael Smith, Pat Carey, Joe Jacob, Frank Fahey, Gerry Brady, Michael O’Kennedy, Johnny Brady, John Ellis, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and Michael Woods as Donie Cassidy ticked off the names and reminisced.


Albert died on the same day as singer Jim “Put Your Sweet Lips” Reeves was born 90 years ago, he said portentously.

Wikipedia suggests that Donie miscalculated by a year and a day, sadly, but he was right about it being the 135th anniversary of the Marian apparition at Knock – which for people of Albert and Kathleen’s deep faith, said Cassidy, was of no small significance.

He recalled how, when a Johnny Cash gig – where a teenage Donie and his band were to play support – at the Lakeland ballroom in Mullingar was cancelled due to the death of Pope John XXIII, Albert, the promoter, took Donie and Firehouse Five mates to the Maloccas chipper (a Mullingar institution but everywhere else was closed in any event) for a consolatory dinner capped with knickerbocker glories.

Outside the Mansion House, RTÉ news journalist Sinéad Hussey recalled that when her father played lead guitar with country singer Margo, Albert would give him a wink to play The Town I Loved So Well, upon which he would take Kathleen out for an expert swirl around the dancefloor.

Benny Reid, a long-time Reynolds supporter and former senator of the NUI, also remembered the keen dancing couple cutting a swath across the Cloudland ballroom near Rooskey: she “beautiful” and he a “marvellous dancer”.

It was a day of half-believable election stories, apocryphal tales of Albert’s late, great lieutenant, Mickey Doherty, fun and recrimination, garnished with the odd, verbal knee in the groin delivered towards one or other of the “snakey kind” standing a few feet away.

The latter was usually of more recent FF vintage, from the generation who dissed Albert, “changed everything, destroyed everything, then melted away like the snows off Kilimanjaro”, as one with a deep and scarily detailed memory put it.

Outside the Mansion House, on a sunny afternoon, with raucous hen parties and Viking Splash tours roaring past, GV Wright, Mattie Brennan and old friends like Eddie Bohan and Brendan Smith dropped by one last time to say farewell to the Roscommon man who evolved into a very modern statesman, the man now lying beneath the portrait of Charles Stewart Parnell, in the usual sharp suit “but unnaturally still”, as one put it.

Saying farewell

Other serious people were there with serious intent; people who didn’t stop to talk but walked with deliberation, heads down, towards the Oak Room.

They had come from Antrim, Cork, Derry and Belfast to say farewell not to the wheeler-dealer or the Longford Slasher but the peacemaker and the man who was comfortable with who he was.

Their judgments, recorded throughout the books of condolence, took the form of a simple “thank you”.

Among them were the ordinary people of Ireland, including two youngish civil servants; one who was paying her respects to “a man deprived of not being taoiseach for longer”. The other was representing her deceased father “steeped in Fianna Fáil. you know what it’s like in a small town”.

And many were surprisingly youthful. Patrick Lloyd, in his 30s, had come up from Ballymahon, Co Longford: “Sure it’s only 70 miles.”

And some weren’t even on that political side of the fence. “We weren’t at one in politics, but you have to pay respects to your own,” said Micheál Dolan, a Longford man who had travelled up with his wife, Mary.

Kieran Williams, sergeant at Mullingar Garda station, was there with his wife, Rosemary, who had been Philip Reynolds’s right-hand woman at C&D Foods for 16 years.

Christy Mannion, virtually a child when co-opted into the canvassing game, went on to co-found Ógra Fianna Fáil in Co Longford and later became Micheál Martin’s special adviser.

Sense of the people

“I came from a poor background in Longford and because of that, the people I knew were all in Fianna Fáil; Albert always had time to listen to you. He never lost the ability to connect, never lost his sense of place or his sense of the people.”

And, no, he wouldn’t call Albert “stubborn. It was a steely determination that made him great but it was also his Achilles’ heel.”

But whatever their provenance, few stories were told without a heartfelt tribute to Kathleen and the Reynolds children for their devotion to Albert, especially in recent years, in the “brutal reality” of his “long, debilitating illness”, as Msgr Lorcan O’Brien described it in his homily.

Fr Brian D’Arcy, who will be chief celebrant at today’s funeral Mass, said the emphasis of his homily will be on family before politics.

As with everything else in his life, Albert’s roots will not be denied in the service. Red Hurley and Paddy Cole will participate, while Eurovision winner Eimear Quinn will be the soloist accompanied by the Palestrina Choir.

Albert’s son, Philip, will give the eulogy. There will be no graveside oration. It seems entirely apt for the man whose simple summation of himself was: “I am what I am.”