David Byrne’s funeral: ‘An eye for an eye leaves everyone blind’

Amid horse-drawn carts and limousines, murdered Byrne is recalled as a loving father

There was no doubting the message in Fr Niall Coghlan's homily at the funeral of Dublin gangland figure David Byrne.

Hatred, revenge and tit-for-tat was not the way of Christ and not the way for any community. An eye for an eye left everyone blind, he said.

If the congregation of close to 1,000 people who packed into the church on Francis Street were uncomfortable in their seats, or standing along the side walls or five deep at the back of the church, they did not show it.

The 220-year-old church of St Nicholas of Myra, named in honour of Nikolaos the Wonderworker, a fourth-century saint reputed to have brought back from the dead the victims of an evil butcher, will not have seen many funerals like the one to which it played host yesterday.


From mid-morning, people began to gather by the junction of Carmen’s Hall and Francis Street, famed in decades gone for its scrapyards but more latterly for its antique shops.

Uniformed gardaí were out in force; their armed colleagues maintaining a visible presence but at a discreet distance.

The people gathering were a mix of passersby and the curious, as well as former friends and associates of Byrne. Many were rough-looking diamonds.

Some were linked with boxing – Byrne was attending a weigh-in for a fight when he was murdered by AK47-toting killers at the Regency Hotel in Drumcondra on February 5th.

Others,possibly, had other associations.

Dark suits

There were sharply dressed younger men standing around – all dark suits, well-pressed blue shirts, sunglasses and slicked-back hair. They had about them an air of the Legionaries of Christ-meet-Tony Soprano.

And there was a fair sprinkling of well-turned-out ladies: done up to the nines in sunglasses, fur coats and high heels.

A Garda helicopter circled overhead.

“They never f**kin’ leave us alone,” an elderly man, who looked like he knew what he was talking about, said bitterly under his breath.

Another man, probably in his late 30s but looking emaciated and in his 60s and wearing a pale-blue shell suit, shuffled through the crowd, bumping against people and looking as though he would topple over but always managing to steady himself at the crucial moment.

“Have you anything,” he slurred at the waiting mourners, glassy-eyed and his hand outstretched, adding: “Terrible f**kin’ sad, terrible f**kin’ sad.”

The elderly man knew him but shooed him away, adding: “Terrible f**kin’ sad to be begging at a funeral.”

With that, the cortege came down Carmen’s Hall – several hearses laden with flowers, followed by Byrne’s huge pale steely-blue American-style casket, carried aloft by 10 dark-suited men with blue shirts.

They were followed in turn by the mourning party of immediate family, close friends and business associates.

Leading them all was a piper playing Hard Times and Raglan Road.

At the start of the funeral Mass, symbols of Byrne’s life were offered – a hat, a pair of boxing gloves and a picture of him.

Sharon (who was reluctant to part with her surname) sang Amazing Grace, unaccompanied and to perfection, and also Ave Maria. One of the readings was Ecclesiastes 3A Time For Everything – there being a detectable pause after the phrase "a time for killing and a time for healing. . ."

In cold blood

“It strikes me that to murder a person in cold blood, you need at least three things,” said Fr Coghlan, an Augustinian who is parish priest of neighbouring St Catherine’s on Meath Street.

“Firstly, you need to be consumed with a fierce hatred that plunged you into the depths of evil.

“Secondly, you must objectify the person and make them less worthy than you.

“And thirdly, there must be a self-loathing, because when you murder another human being you devalue your own self-worth, your own humanity.”

He dwelt for a time in his homily of the dehumanising of Byrne by his killers.

“Could David have been murdered if he had been seen as fully human? If the killers had looked into his eyes, and seen in their reflection the smiles of adoration of two daughters, Daisy and Dottie, could he have been murdered?

“Could he have been murdered if, looking at him, a movie was played showing his partner Kellie, in love with her man; a mother and father, Sadie and Jemmy, looking at their youngest child on the day that he was born, wondering about the life ahead for him; brothers and sisters, laughing and joking, rowing and making up; a grandmother, Maria, proud to welcome another of the next generation into the world – a family who affectionately knew him as a messer, with a nickname from his mother, Happy Harry, the man who delighted them all with his party piece of back flips across a dance floor.

“I don’t think so because he would have been seen, not as an object of revenge and retaliation, a mere target, but a partner, father, son, brother, cousin, grandson, nephew. He would have been seen as a human being. It’s impossible to murder the likes of that.”


After his plea for no retaliation, Byrne’s sister, Joanne, read a poem:

When I’m Gone

by Lyman Hancock.

There were then family recollections of the joker brother who once donned a leotard and his mother’s fur coat – “not the one she has on now, the black one”, said Richard to laughter – and, larking about at a petrol station, got arrested by gardaí looking for a flasher.

Or the man who used to walk his pet rabbit, Snowy, around Crumlin on a lead.

Ten black stretch limousines, three horse-drawn carts laden with flowers and three leather-clad Hell’s Angels motorbikers made the journey along Clanbrassil Street to Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross. A Garda Emergency Response Unit 4x4 and other armed gardaí rode in front and behind the cortege. The Garda Traffic Corps sealed all junctions en route to facilitate unhindered passage.

At the wreath-strewn grassy graveside, as the casket was lowered into the earth, a crowd of about 200 released dozens of white and pale-blue balloons. Simultaneously, a hail of red and white long-stemmed roses was cast into the grave.

The mourners lingered, chatting, thinking. Ben E King's Stand By Me started coming out of a speaker.

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh

Peter Murtagh is a contributor to The Irish Times