Stories of compassion, humour and talent as 'sculptor of language' Houlihan gets Dublin farewell


There was a huge turnout for the Kerry native described as ‘compassionate, sometimes extremely funny, courteous, with perfect manners’, writes PATSY McGARRY

HIS FAMILY “thought him the gentlest of giants, the uncle who coaxed me from behind the sofa with bananas when I was terrified of his mountainous presence”, Ann Houlihan told an overflow attendance at St Kevin’s Church on Dublin’s Harrington Street yesterday. She was speaking after the funeral Mass for her uncle, journalist Con Houlihan (86), who died in St James’s Hospital at the weekend.

The family would be “taking Connie home” on Friday, September 7th where, after Mass, he will be laid to rest with his parents, sister and brother-in-law at Kilbannivane cemetery, Castleisland. In a eulogy at the end of the Mass, Ray Hennessy, a friend of the journalist, described Con Houlihan as “a sculptor of language” who was “sensitive, compassionate, humorous, sometimes extremely funny, courteous, with perfect manners”.

He recalled a comment Con made when unable to locate a book of poetry by Gerald Manley Hopkins after a cleaning lady had been at the house: “You know, if that woman worked in Trinity College she’d throw out the Book of Kells.”

On another occasion, when Kerry beat Dublin in football, he was asked how his friend Harriet, a dedicated Dublin supporter, was taking it, “Con replied: ‘House private. No flowers.’”

At the crematorium in Harold’s Cross later, author Dermot Bolger said of him: “No other journalist could file a sports column from Berne, which devoted more space to his opinions on the paintings he encountered in an art gallery than to the tedious encounter between the Irish and Swiss soccer teams, which he summed up as footballers clashing ‘with all the force of two pillows colliding’.”

The Mass was celebrated by Msgr Tom Stack, who also presided at the ceremony in the crematorium where he was assisted by Fr Joe Kennedy. At St Kevin’s he was assisted by Fr Gerard Deighan, Kerry priests Fr John O’Connell and Fr Tony Gaughan, and Fr Brian D’Arcy.

Music was by John Sheehan, Bill Dowdall, Jimmy Flynn and Neillidh Mulligan with singing by Jim Kelly, brother of Luke.

Among those who carried the coffin from the church were former soccer international Niall Quinn, former rugby international Hugo McNeill, Pat O’Mahony of Goal and Liam Mackey of the Irish Examiner.

Outside, the coffin was draped in a Starry Plough flag, with a Castleisland rugby jersey.

Chief mourners were Con Houlihan’s friend Harriet Duffin, his sister-in-law Kathleen, nieces Sandra, Ann and Patricia, nephew Michael and cousin Bobby. President Michael Higgins was represented by Col Brendan McAndrew and Taoiseach Enda Kenny by Comdt Mick Treacy.

Also in attendance were Government Ministers Jimmy Deenihan and Joan Burton, MEP Seán Kelly, Cllr Dr Bill Tormey, former TDs Tom Parlon and Jim Glennon, former senator Donie Cassidy, John Rogers SC, poets Brendan Kennelly, Hugh McFadden, Brian Lynch, Paddy Finnegan and Peigín Lally, widow of Mick Lally.

Present also were former Kerry manager Mick O’Dwyer, former Dublin footballers Jimmy Keaveney and Paddy Cullen, and former hurler Nicky English. Also present were Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Eileen Dunne, Rodney Rice and Brian Carthy from RTÉ as well as journalist and broadcaster Vincent Browne.

Mulligan’s pub on Poolbeg Street was represented by Gerry Cusack, the Palace bar on Fleet Street by Liam Ahern, the Bank pub on Dame Street by Charlie Chawke, Doheny & Nesbitts on Merrion Row by Tom Mangan. There too was managing editor of Independent Newspapers Michael Denieffe, Gerry O’Regan editor of the Irish Independent, Stephen Rae, editor of the Evening Herald and Seán Ward, former editor of the Evening Press. Among the large contingent of former Irish Press group journalists and staff present were Dick O’Riordan, Ray Burke, Tim Ryan, Mick O’Kane, Stephen Collins, Stephen O’Byrnes, Fionnuala Mulcahy, Paddy Madden, Chris Dooley, Helen Rock, Yvonne Judge, Eamon Gibson, Joe Kennedy, John Redmond, Ken Whelan, Des Nix, Éanna Brophy, John Kelly, Seán Mac Connell, Willie Collins, Tom O’Shea, Colm Rapple, Michael Farrell, Cyril Byrne, Liam Gorman, Eoghan Corry, John Brophy, Sean Boyne, John O’Reilly and Yvonne Maxwell.

Other journalists present were Paul Gillespie, Deirdre McQuillan and Mike Burns.