Fans and familiar faces say goodbye

 

AT 9 AM, under a bleak, damp sky, 2½ hours before the funeral Mass, a little group of Gerry Ryan stalwarts was already queuing on the pavement outside the padlocked gates of St John the Baptist Church, Clontarf, on the north Dublin seafront.

Shivering in the cold breeze blowing across the bay, corralled behind a crash barrier, they reconciled themselves to the news that entrance to the church was by invitation only. “But sure what of it? Gerry’s worth it”, said one.

And soon enough, there were diversions to help pass the time. At 10am, Alison Doody, former model and actor, was the first of the celebrities to arrive, peering with two companions through the railings of the church at the security guards.

Shortly after, the first of the SUVs, taxis and an RTÉ bus began to drop off familiar faces. Joe Duffy, Pat Kenny, Ryan Tubridy, Westlife, Lord Mayor of Dublin Emer Costello, Keith Duffy . . .

Close to 11, Gerry Ryan’s partner of 18 months, Melanie Verwoerd, arrived with her son and daughter.

Elegantly bound order-of-service booklets were snapped up as the spectator numbers grew to several hundred; buggies were manoeuvred into position, take-away coffees acquired. A round of applause greeted President Mary McAleese’s arrival. Then word came though the loudspeakers that Gerry Ryan’s coffin had left his home and was on the way.

Soon, two slowly moving Garda outriders with blinking hazard lights and a Garda jeep signalled his approach, followed by some 15 mourners – his wife, Morah, children Charlotte, Rex, Elliott, Bonnie and Babette, his brothers Michael and Vincent (Manno), relatives and close friends. A string quartet from the RTÉ Concert Orchestra played Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiringas Gerry Ryan’s two sons, his two brothers and two old friends, David Blake-Knox and Michael O’Connor, carried the coffin carrying a spray of three red roses, into the old, granite church.

While the Dublin Gospel Choir sang the Responsorial Psalm, the crowd outside listened quietly and tended to each other’s needs. A woman fed a baby from a jar, cigarettes were passed around, sips of tepid coffee were offered; an Elvis impersonator puffed on a cigarillo and struck poses for the benefit of photographers, holding aloft pictures of himself side by side with one of Gerry Ryan from the Mass booklet, while maintaining a running commentary. More prayerful participants looked askance.

But one who knew Gerry Ryan murmured: “I think Gerry would approve . . . It seems apt somehow,” to a host of smiles and nods.

In his homily, Fr Brian D’Arcy, a friend of 30 years, said he thought Gerry would have been “absolutely shocked at how popular he was”, adding – to much laughter – that “he would have made use of it to wrangle a better contract than he got”.

He described his capacity for love, his genius for communication and his “attitude – boy, had he attitude. He also had brains in abundance and he had courage without measure. And that’s why people remember him so fondly, because he used those gifts to speak for the poor, the downtrodden and the voiceless. And that’s what Gerry did, even though he never got much credit for it . . . No matter how bad the news was, no matter how he ranted at blatant injustice, he always turned his listeners back to hope.”

Then musing on the reading about love that he read on the day of Gerry’s death – “love is patient, love is without envy, love is never arrogant or boastful, love overcomes anger and love never takes offence” – he had decided, he said, “whatever that is, it’s not Gerry Ryan. For Gerry was not very patient. For Gerry was not without envy. To say that Gerry was never arrogant or boastful, well, you never knew him if you were to say that. And if you said that he overcame his anger or didn’t take offence, then I’m afraid Gerry would have been as dull as the rest of us.”

Gerry wrestled with his religion, said Fr D’Arcy, “and always worried about the way his life was going. Mostly . . . I began to see that within himself, he felt a bit lost, as any of us do . . . Being loved by the people of the country didn’t make Gerry’s life any less painful at times; as he admitted, he had received his share of pain and he had caused his share of pain and he was proud of neither.”

Fr D’Arcy concluded with a psalm for grieving people – “I leave my thoughts, my laughter, my dreams to you whom I have treasured beyond gold” – as people dabbed their eyes and applauded.

After Communion, Westlife sang You Raise Me Up and as the service came to a close, Ryan’s two eldest children, Lottie and Rex, spoke warmly from the podium about their father.

“With Dad, we came first . . . He was my best friend. We loved just hanging out with him,” said Lottie. “He was the definition of a cool Dad,” said Rex. “He was a man who was too big for this world . . . He shone more brightly than anyone I have come across.”

His brother Manno took what he called “a quick canter” through Gerry’s early days, topped with a specially made poignant recording by U2 of one of his brother’s favourite songs – With or Without You– opening with the words: “Calling from New York on the Ryan Line, the Ryan Line’s still open”; and ending: “Goodbye Gerry, see you down the road.”

Finally, it was the turn of Morah, audibly struggling with her grief, to say how proud she was of their children; to thank the “Ryan show girls who put Gerry on air every morning”; to express gratitude to Bill O’Donovan “for believing in him”; to Liam Miller “for calling to our home close to midnight and making sure all those years ago that Gerard did not leave RTÉ for another station. Gerard belonged in RTÉ, it was his home. I wish to thank RTÉ on behalf of myself and the children.”

She thanked friends and family for “carrying us through these dark days” and all those listeners to his show. “You are the reason he got up every morning. When the little red light went on in the studio, he lit up and he was yours . . . I want to thank you for listening and on behalf of myself, Charlotte, Rex, Bonnie, Elliott and Babette, thank you for the roof over our heads”. She continued: “I would like to extend mine, Manno, Michael’s and the children’s sympathies to Melanie and her children.”

She finished with some of “Gerard’s favourite quotes” (taken from the films Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey), her voice cracking and tripping on the words: “‘I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time . . . like tears in the rain . . . Time to die.’ God speed you chief. And don’t worry. I think Hal has opened the pod bay door.”

The line from 2001: A Space Odyssey is believed to be inscribed on the underside of Ryan’s coffin: “Open the pod bay doors Hal.”

Among the attendance were Ministers Mary Harney and Eamon Ryan; former taoiseach Albert Reynolds; Richard Bruton, Seán Haughey, Ivor Callely and David Norris; Gen David Ashe, acting Chief of Staff for the Defence Forces; and chief executive of the FAI, John Delaney.

From RTÉ came Bob Collins, Cathal Goan, Claire Duignan, Willie O’Reilly, Bill O’Donovan, Marian Finucane, Larry Gogan, Marty Whelan, John Kelly, Fergal Keane, Fiona Looney, Dave Fanning, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and several of Gerry Ryan’s producers, among them Siobhán Hough, Paul Russell and Alice O’Sullivan.

Also in the attendance were Harry Crosbie, Robbie Wooten, Denis Desmond, Caroline Downey, Niall Stokes, John Rocha, Donal Spring, Alan Stanford, Michael Colgan, Joe Taylor, Kevin Hough, Gerald Kean, Linda Martin, Craig Doyle, Louis Walsh, Twink, Derry Clarke, Brendan Grace, Moya Doherty and John McColgan.