Stories flow thick and fast as Kerry bids farewell to noble warrior Páidí Ó Sé
They carried him down and laid him to rest at the foot of Mount Eagle, on the edge of his home village beside the Atlantic sea.
Back on the outside again, near the corner, in the green and gold. Number five, of course. Páidí Ó Sé, forever now on the wing.
“May the Ventry sod rest lightly on this noble warrior.”
After a day of many words – never scarce in the west Kerry Gaeltacht – those final ones lingered in the little graveyard. The Ó Sé family, heartbroken, stood together for their final public farewell to Páidí. The crowd held back to give them their space.
Pádraig Óg Ó Sé approached the mound beside the open grave, a shovel in his hand. Slowly, he began to dig and lift, the sandy soil hitting his father’s coffin and the Kerry jersey draped carefully over it.
Then the footballing men moved in. Some wore the red and white armband of An Ghaeltacht – Páidí’s club, and some wore the green and gold armband of the county team.
They took it in turns to heft the shovels, silently going about their work until the jersey vanished from view and the hole was filled. It didn’t take them long.
As the light began to fade, they returned along the road to Ventry, leaving the silence behind them. A huge crowd piled into Páidí’s pub at the Ard a Bhóthair crossroads. Pints were poured and big pots of tea produced and the talk started again, taking up where the two-day wake left off.
Flow of stories
There were hot dinners and sandwiches for the mourners, but there was nothing very mournful about the scene as the stories started to flow – one yarn about Páidí more outrageous than the other.
That’s because there was a lot more to Páidí than football. Speaker after speaker at his funeral Mass tried to explain the essence of this impish dynamo.
“He was a hero . . . a leader . . . an adviser and a friend to many people in his life,” said chief concelebrant Fr Kieran O’Brien, trying to capture a sense of one of Ireland’s most loved sportsmen.
On and off the field, from “his riveting talks to his funny stories, he lived a life full of energy. He didn’t just belong to Ventry, he belonged to the country. He had time for everyone, and was passionate and understanding.”
And never let it be said in this GAA bastion: “He was the last wall of defence from those who wanted to steal Sam from the Kingdom.”
This time last week, the eight-times All-Ireland medal winner had been busy planning his annual football tournament for next year. He had big ideas for it and was going to make it one of west Kerry’s major contributions to the Gathering. His revamped website went live to publicise it. A few days later, aged 57, he was dead.
At his funeral, there was still a sense of disbelief in the air.
Fr O’Brien – an old handball friend – spoke of the shock felt all over the country when news of Páidí’s sudden death was announced. “Like a stone thrown in a pond, the sorrow spread.”
Páidí’s wife, Máire, and children Neasa, Siún and Pádraig Óg sat in the front row with his brother Tom, along with nephews Darragh, Marc, Tomás, the latest generation of football stars from Ard a Bhóthair .
“This crossroads has 23 senior All-Ireland medals to its name,” marvelled Danny Lynch, former public relations officer of the GAA and a neighbour’s child.
Lynch was among the large gathering outside the Séipéal Chaitlín. It was a bitterly cold winter’s day, but the footballing men stood stolidly for almost two hours, trying to catch some of the broadcast fitfully relayed out to the car park.
Many of the younger players waited outside without overcoats or gloves, seemingly impervious to the chill in the incense-heavy air.
On the steps of the altar in the small stone church, beside the Christmas crib, was a copy of Páidí’s autobiography and a CD of traditional Irish music, his beloved Kerry jersey, a pint glass and a pack of cards.
Perfectly packed for his trip.
Uilleann piper Seán Óg Potts and fiddler Paddy Glackin performed Seán Ó Riada’s Mass with the Cór Chúil Aodha and, later, Luke Kelly’s brother Jimmy performed a haunting rendition of Raglan Road. There were tears and applause for him, and for Sláine Ní Chathalláin, who sang The Boys of Barr na Sráide.
It was a very male gathering. Sportsmen, sports fans, politicians and quiet big men with beautiful Irish.
There was much talk of Páidí’s friendship with Charlie Haughey. Haughey’s sons Ciarán and Conor came down on Monday night, along with their sister Eimear Mulhearn, and they were among the first to arrive at the church for the midday Mass.
There was no sign of Bertie Ahern, who got an honourable mention from the altar, but there was a warm welcome for Brian Cowen. Of all the taoisigh Páidí befriended, it seems Cowen was his favourite.
Cowen was always going to come to Ventry this Christmas – the two had planned to meet over the festive season. But it happened, tragically, sooner than he expected.
Afterwards, he joined builder Tom Bailey and Seán Quinn jnr in a snug for a drink.
Micheál Martin, the current Fianna Fáil leader, paid his respects, while Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte skipped the Cabinet meeting to attend his old friend’s funeral.
And the stories came and came. The kids in the local club “would stand on their heads in the snow for Páidí”.
And the “Greats”. They were all there. Ogie Moran, Pat Spillane, Jack O’Shea, Jimmy Deenihan and the rest. Old Dublin foes, among them Anton O’Toole, Paddy Cullen, Gay O’Driscoll and Robbie Kelleher. Watching it all was Mick O’Dwyer, looking heavy of heart and weary.
Tom Ó Sé, the brother, brought some laughs. “He liked the craic, he was a rogue. Páidí was a great character and we’ll remember the yarns.”
The blackthorn was cut back along the road to the cemetery. The cortege made its way slowly past the pub and the general grocery. Then it passed over the mountain stream to the gates, where Páidí’s nephews shouldered the coffin to his final resting place. Under a watery sun, with the waves breaking on Ventry strand, Kerry buried its larger-than-life son.
The Christmas decorations remained up in the pub. The singing started at nightfall. It was the beginning of a long goodbye to the man who was known to one and all as “Páidí”.