Stephen Gately brought home by the boys


AS THE hearse carrying Stephen Gately turned on to Seville Place near his old family home in Dublin’s North Wall last night, the murmur of a few hundred conversations died away and a crowd that had been growing since early afternoon found themselves applauding as one.

Nearly 10 years have passed since Boyzone split in 2000, but the ardour of fans is undimmed and the goodwill of a community was unmistakably resolute among the hundreds who stood in the early winter chill last night.

Wendy Lee (26) from Taiwan had travelled from her home in Taipei to be in Dublin for the funeral of a man she idolised since she was a teenager.

“He was so kind and friendly and I really loved his songs,” she said. “When my friend told me he had died, I just cried. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep.”

The flights for the two-day visit had cost her more than €1,000, but she didn’t give it a thought.

Alongside her was Michelle Robinson (25) from Belfast, whom she had met at one of the band’s reunion gigs last year. “I think it’s pure devastation,” Michelle said of the fans’ reaction to Gatelys death at 33 years.

“The way I feel at the moment, it’s like a nightmare. He was so down to earth and he took so much time to talk to people. The fact that he was so open about his sexuality went a long way, too.”

For every one who had come from afar, there were many more who seemed to know Gately not as a name in lights but as a neighbour, a schoolmate, a voice on the street.

One woman remembered him as a 14-year-old at the disco down the road “and he didn’t change one bit”. Another said her mother had died three years ago “and the crowd was just as big, and she wasn’t a big name or anything.

“They always do it around here, and they walk behind the coffin. It’s a tradition... He was very much loved. Beautiful, beautiful family. His parents are the salt of the earth, they really are.”

As dusk set in and the hulking frame of Croke Park imposed itself on the skyline to the north, the crowd continued to grow. The evening Darts thundered from the overhead bridge and passing drivers slowed down to take in the scene.

Dozens of gardaí ushered a cavalcade of black cars towards Jennings Funeral Home, where family and friends gathered for prayers from 6.30pm, each arrival greeted with applause and the sight of a few hundred phones hoisted into the air. For manager Louis Walsh, the band members, parents Martin and Margaret and anyone else who could be made out in the dwindling light, the cheers were loud and warm.

Richard Hows and his wife Jane had travelled to Dublin for the weekend for a Daniel O’Donnell concert and found themselves among the mourners for a man they described as like a cousin.

Their daughter Rachel – now 25 – was a Boyzone fanatic, they said, and not a year passed between 1994 and 2000 when they didn’t travel to their concerts with her.

Rachel would be arriving in Dublin to join them in time for the funeral today.

“Stephen was her favourite,” Jane said. “We actually met him in Liverpool when he was doing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Lovely fella. A real shock. I still can’t believe it. Taken so young.”

Gately’s bandmates accompanied him home from Majorca yesterday afternoon.

They spoke earlier in the day of being overwhelmed by the support they had received. Reading a statement and flanked by his bandmates, Ronan Keating recalled that Stephen “lived to perform and truly loved being centre stage”.

“You can be sure he’s looking down on us now wishing we’d move over so he could flash his smile for the cameras one more time. What the future holds for the four of us now is too hard to even think about, but we know that nothing will ever be the same without our dearest friend, Stephen . . . rest in peace, brother.”

Local residents have been working hard this week to prepare Sheriff Street and the area for today’s funeral, which begins at midday and is expected to attract thousands more fans, dignitaries and journalists from across the world. Gately’s bandmates, who looked weary and drawn last night, are expected to sing at the Mass.

Like many others gathered on Seville Place last night, Seán Clarke and his wife Rita, from Longford, found it difficult to express what had brought them, other than a sense that it was important to pay their respect.

“I heard about his death on the radio when I was still half asleep, so I had to get up to hear if it was true,” said Seán, his wife stretching for a photo of the scene. “I probably won’t get very close here, but at least I came. I’m sure he’s in a good place now.”

After prayers at the funeral home, the cortege made the short journey to St Laurence O’Toole’s church at Sheriff Street, its route lined by dozens of candles in the crowd. The four bandmates carried the coffin into the church, where a private Mass was held for family and friends, and where the four remained long into the night, keeping vigil by the side of a departed friend.