Thousands attend funeral of 'gentleman, patriot' Minister of State Shane McEntee

Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 00:00

The service reflected a multi- layered tragedy with ripples far beyond the beautiful green pastures of Nobber

Under a watery winter sun on Christmas Eve the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, stood by the open grave of Shane McEntee in Nobber cemetery and, in a voice thickening with emotion, tried to summon up the spirit of “this best of men, this truest of friends . . . gentleman, patriot, the quintessential Meath man, mad for his family, for his people, for his county, for his football and for his politics”.

In one of the day’s many insights into the fierce and gentle core of the former hardy corner-back and Minister of State who took his own life last Friday, the Taoiseach remembered the tears in the Meath man’s eyes as they sat listening to the stories of people whose homes had been damaged by pyrite.

Shane McEntee, he said, was “a giver, a doer . . . He didn’t just listen to people’s problems, he made them his own.”

It was a recurring theme during a profoundly sombre 2½-hour Mass and burial service, in which the distress of his daughters Helen and Sally at the graveside, and the stricken faces of young men in dark suits and black ties reflected a multilayered tragedy with ripples far beyond the beautiful green pastures of Nobber.

Due respect

The presence of President Michael D Higgins, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and a host of Cabinet Ministers, TDs and public figures, along with the small, precision-drilled bearer party made up of military police from 2 Brigade, rendered due respect to a Government Minister.

In the church of St John the Baptist, lit by Advent candles and a leafy Nativity crib, the singer, Mary Duff, and the homilist, Fr Michael Sheerin, came from neighbouring Lobinstown. In a guard of honour from the church, stretching down the hill to the cemetery, GAA stalwarts from clubs such as Castletown, Syddan and Moynalty took one side, and farmers of the IFA the other.

As Sally kissed her father’s smiling image through the glass frame, the message etched on the tombstone over the open grave beside her told poignantly of the long and fulfilled life of Shane McEntee’s father, Tony, buried there last year: “Blessed be those with a cheery smile . . .”

The heartfelt injunctions now, by contrast, were to look out for each other.

Enda Kenny said Shane’s death challenged us to remember that “those who give vent to a constant and mutilating criticism have a responsibility in the presentation of a compassionate, caring Ireland that so many people wish to see”.

‘Help each other’

Gerry McEntee, brother of the late Minister of State, warned of the “great danger that when all of these terrible few days settle down, many of Shane’s friends and family will be angry and will feel anger. We may not see it in ourselves but our friends might see it in us. We may not identify that we need help but our friends might see it. Be aware, keep our eyes open. Help each other.”

He talked of the “paradox” that was his brother. “Shane was strong and Shane was brave. He was soft and he was kind. And if that seems like a paradox, then Shane McEntee was a paradox. He’d fight with anyone but fall out with no one.”

Pep talks

Fr Sheerin, an old family friend, spoke of a “driven man, driven by the desire to be the best, to do the best”. To laughter, he recalled a telling reference to “the paint peeling on the walls” at one of Shane’s famously direct half-time “pep talks”, delivered to his losing team in Páirc Tailteann.

Shane’s only son, Vincent, also remembered getting “a good sense of what the hairdryer treatment was like” while sitting in on a few such pep talks.

But after the match, he added, his father would be there chatting, with a laugh and a smile. “He was the best thing ever . . . I just followed him everywhere, on the farm to football matches.

“Politicians come in for a lot of flak these days but it never followed me home. I knew how much work he did. He worked very hard. He was very genuine, he was open-hearted. He just wanted to help people out. He was the same to us . . . I see the picture over there [beside the coffin] with the big dirty smile and the bould head on him . . . He was just himself. You grow up but I never stopped thinking he was 10ft tall.”

The “flak” directed at politicians was also a recurring theme. Fr Sheerin talked of Shane’s deep sensitivity “over a huge range of issues and concerns – perhaps too sensitive and with too many concerns – for his own wellbeing”.

‘Harrowing time’

In a strong, faintly baffled voice, Gerry McEntee said they had all thought Shane was doing a good job in his new role. “The tributes from any of the organisations that had anything to do with Shane – from farming, food, horticulture – suggest that in these difficult times he was doing his best.” But “these last four weeks [around the budget announcements] were a harrowing time for Shane. The irony, the absolute hideous irony, that Shane got so much flak for his criticism and comments about the carers’ [respite cuts] from the Opposition, through the radio, by text and through the social media . . . the absolute irony of it.

“Because I don’t know anyone who cared more than Shane. And I challenge everyone here and outside to show me a politician who cared more for their community than Shane McEntee.”

At this, the 3,000-strong congregation packed inside the church and outside broke into loud applause. They applauded again when he said : “Shame on you people, you faceless cowards, who sent him horrible messages on the website and on text, shame on you.”

After more applause he added: “I hope you are not proud of what you achieved. If you are, we are in a worse state than I ever thought we were in.”

‘Intimidation’

“If there’s one message from all this, I believe most people in this church today and in Ireland in general want to go to work each day and do their best. I believe that. I believe the vast majority of politicians want to go to work each day and do their best . . . We have a right and a duty to elect our politicians. If we’re not happy with them we have a right to change them.

“We have a right to peaceful protest. But we have not a right to intimidation and harassment. Can you imagine, any of you here who are not politicians, going about your day’s work and getting continual harassment – whether it takes the form of picketing outside your working offices or harassment through the social media? Which one of you would like that? I wouldn’t.”

‘Turmoil’

His voice breaking, he added: “None of that will bring back Shane. We all miss him. And we’ll miss him greatly. His mind was in turmoil but now I hope it’s in peace.”

The chief mourners were Kathleen, and his children Aoife, Helen, Sally, Vincent, his grandchildren, his mother Madge, his brothers, sister and extended family.