Dermot Byrne’s family say gentle goodbye after brutal killing

Community pays respects to ‘good friend and great father’at funeral in Swords

The funeral of Dermot Byrne has taken place in Swords, the steps of a local school, where was attacked and killed, have become a makeshift memorial in his honour. Video: Peter Murtagh

 

When Gráinne looked down at her brother Dermot to say her last goodbye, she saw a body that had been smashed – head, face, neck, shoulders, chest and torso – in a seemingly random act of savagery.

After the beating on North Street in Swords, Co Dublin, early on Sunday, July 16th, Dermot’s body was examined by a pathologist; his remains cut open and studied to determine the precise cause of death.

But before his funeral on Thursday, Gráinne was determined that the final human touch on Dermot’s body before his coffin was closed would not be the shoes that kicked him to death nor the surgeon’s knife, deployed in the cause of justice. The final touch would be one of love.

And so she leaned forward and she kissed him.

“Gráinne,” said a family friend, “love by name, love by nature.”

Dermot Byrne’s coffin being carried into St Colmcille’s Church in Swords ahead of his funeral Mass. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Dermot Byrne’s coffin being carried into St Colmcille’s Church in Swords ahead of his funeral Mass. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

The brutal circumstances of his death – a beating on the granite steps of Fingal Community College as he walked home – were in contrast to the manner in which Dermot Byrne’s family and friends said their goodbyes in St Colmcille’s Church, his body shepherded home most of all by the women who loved him.

A piper – a volunteer from the community, one of the many dozens of people who have come forward to comfort the family – heralded his arrival at the church door, a guard of honour provided by friends from the Irish Blackball Association and St Colmcille’s GAA club.

As the coffin was wheeled slowly up the aisle, Byrne’s eldest daughter Shawna rested her left hand on the lid. In her other, she carried his pool cue case.

Behind her walked her sisters, Rebecca and Emma, and their mother, Geraldine, his wife of 26 years. Behind them again, his mother Phyllis, and brothers Andrew, David, Paul, Robert and Gráinne, nieces and nephews.

The small church packed with perhaps 500 people, was filled also by the soft, gentle voice of Sharon Lyons singing, first, The Foggy Dew, and then Yesterday, accompanied on organ by Anne McDonagh. But troubles, usually far away, were very near for everyone present.

“It’s still shocking,” a woman whispered to her friend. “I can’t sleep with thinking of it.”

Fr Paul Thornton did not have to read people’s minds to know what was in them. “We lost Dermot in such tragic circumstances, that the reality of even thinking about it is unimaginable,” he said.

What was important, however, was “to never let darkness have the last word but to always know that the light of [Dermot’s] love, and the light of God’s love, conquers any darkness”.

Symbols of the life of a man of evident simple pleasures were brought to the altar. Shawna brought forward the pool cue case, a packet of cigarettes and her father’s Zippo lighter. Emma brought a Dublin GAA jersey and some match tickets. Rebecca brought samples of her father’s music – CDs of David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and Aslan.

Rebecca stood at the lectern for the First Reading – from the Book of Wisdom (The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God). Gulping for air and supported by Shawna, her voice grew stronger as she read.

Emma read from St Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (I have fought the good fight), also supported by Shawna.

Dermot’s death, “an annihilation”, said Fr Thornton, was a disaster for his family, a “brutal and callous killing on the streets of our town”.

“As time has gone on, we have come to know Dermot Byrne as a kind, gentle man who worked with his brothers, assembling and supplying bikes and who was respected in St Colmcille’s Club and also as a world pool player,” he said .

“That morning brought to our doorstep the reality of violence in our country, something we hear so much of in the news but it stops us in our tracks when it happens on a street that we walk down every day.

“This act of violence just doesn’t affect us now. It is part of a viciousness that eats away at the fabric of our society and removes from us that which we value, which is respect for one and other, and the freedom to be able to walk through our town without fear.”

(Left to right) Dermot Byrne’s mother Phyllis, his wife Geraldine and daughters Rebecca, Shawna and Emma at St Colmcille’s Church in Swords. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins
(Left to right) Dermot Byrne’s mother Phyllis, his wife Geraldine and daughters Rebecca, Shawna and Emma at St Colmcille’s Church in Swords. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

Shawna spoke of her father – “our good friend, husband and great father”, who loved his family very much and which he always put first (though occasionally getting sidetracked by a game of pool).

She told of family holidays and memories of her father’s eccentricities; how he brought her to an Eminem concert “at a time when most of my friends weren’t even allowed listen to Eminem”; how he arrived home one day with a jet-ski on the roof of his car. . .

She laughed and she cried and she looked at her sisters and mother and they laughed and cried with her. “Dad,” she said, “we are heartbroken you were taken from us so soon and you will forever be in our hearts.”

Dermot’s younger brother Paul spoke softly. “This is one of the toughest things I have had to do in my life,” he said.

He recalled boyhood days together, mischief and fun, boldness and high-jinks, and of how their late father founded the scooter and bicycle business his sons, especially Dermot, helped build up.

He thanked the fire personnel, the medics and the community but most of all, he thanked the gardaí. “They get some horrible abuse on a daily basis,” he said. “But today, on behalf of the local community, I thank them so, so much.”

“Let us pray our justice system will continue to finish the fabulous work the guards have done,” he said.

Paul said he had one final plea for all present. “My one request for the congregation here today,” he said, “over the next few days or weeks, is for you to do one act of kindness.

“Maybe visit an elderly neighbour, buy a sandwich for a homeless person, or just something small that will hopefully get someone to smile at you and make you happy in the process, and someday soon, somebody will show you an act of kindness.”