Coveney son says his father gave - and gave in style


It was a remarkable tribute to a loved local representative. Politicians from different parties, led by the Fine Gael leader, Mr John Bruton, were among the guard of honour yesterday as the body of Hugh Coveney was taken from St Michael's Church in Cork to be buried in a private ceremony in his native city.

The President, Mrs McAleese, met the Coveney family before requiem Mass was offered by Father George Murphy, parish priest of Minane Bridge, the small rural community outside Cork where Mr Coveney farmed 250 acres.

Father Murphy was joined on the altar by 15 priests from Cork and Ross, as well as the Bishop of Cork, Dr John Buckley. The local Minane Bridge choir sang.

The former Minister for Defence and the Marine and former Lord Mayor of Cork lost his life last weekend when he fell from a steep cliff in the Robert's Cove area of Cork Harbour as he attempted to rescue one of his dogs during a walk.

The theme of the Mass derived heavily from biblical references to the sea - an acknowledgment of Hugh Coveney's passion for sailing, which was shared by his seven children, five of whom had to cut short a round-the-world voyage to raise money for the Chernobyl Children's Project when they heard the shocking news off the coast of Ecuador on Sunday morning.

It is expected they will resume the voyage in memory of their father.

He sponsored the trip and made the family yacht, Golden Apple, available. Mr Coveney was a past captain of the Irish Admiral's Cup team.

Many floral tributes were laid out at the steps of the church. A huge assembly arrived to sign the book of condolence and to sympathise with the family. Almost the entire Fine Gael front bench was present, as were two former party leaders, Dr Garret FitzGerald and Mr Alan Dukes.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, was represented by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Ms O' Rourke. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, represented the Government. The Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue and the Ceann Comhairle, Mr SΘamus Pattison, were among the congregation, as was former MEP and Minister for Finance, Mr Gene Fitzgerald of Fianna Fβil, and the leader of Democratic Left, Mr Prionsias de Rossa, as well as the Labour Party leader, Mr Ruair∅ Quinn, together with Mr Toddy O'Sullivan, the former Labour TD, who was a friend of Hugh Coveney during their years together in Cork politics.

In his homily, Father Murphy spoke of Mr Coveney's "keen intellect, generosity of heart, his wit, his charm and his courteous nature." He had, Father Murphy said, a strong sense of public duty - a desire to serve. He was devoid of insincerity or double-dealing.

He knew great success but also understood its responsibilities. And for all his achievements, his proudest moment came when he became Lord Mayor of the city he loved. The office, the priest said, gave him a platform to promote his own city using his talents and connections. Throughout his year of office, his wife, Pauline was pivotal in everything he did.

Father Murphy said Mr Coveney was involved in and avidly supported the peace process. In the agonising hours of waiting for news of him last weekend, Mrs Coveney had taken time to remember the many victims of violence in the North whose bodies had never been recovered. At least in his case, the sea which he loved had offered him up for Christian burial by his family.

There could be no greater tribute to his memory and nothing that would please his family more than if the whereabouts of the missing bodies would be revealed. He ended: "We say goodnight, sweet prince - and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Just before the congregation left the church, Mr Coveney's eldest son Patrick (27), thanked the rescue services and all those who had helped in the search for his father.

Whether canvassing, at a business meeting or racing his yacht, his father, he told the congregation, was "a human dynamo who lived life at 100 miles-per-hour - a speed that accelerated as he grew older. He believed in giving because he wanted to. And when he gave, he gave in style."

His father, he said, was a man who loved very deeply - both his family and his country, even if he kept a special place in his heart for his own city and county.

"He was the perfect father, or as close to it as I have ever seen. He often spoke to me of the vision he had of my brothers and sister returning from their voyage as they rounded Roche's Point in Cork Harbour. I think that might have been the proudest moment of his life . . . He was my best friend and I will always resent the fact that he was taken from me before I could repay that friendship."

In her personal tribute, his daughter, Rebecca, said her father's advice had always been - "never the backward glance."

The chief mourners were Mrs Coveney, sons Patrick, Simon (25), Rory (23), twins Andrew and Tony (21), Rebecca (19), and his brother Tony.