Funeral of Coast Guard’s Captain Mark Duffy held in Louth
‘He put a safety net around us in our home. He was fearless. He lived consciously each day’
Under a sky the colour of dull lead and led by a piper playing The Minstrel Boy, Irish Coast Guard captain Mark Duffy’s tricolour-draped coffin was carried to the doorway of St Oliver Plunkett Church by six of his colleagues.
First it passed a guard of honour formed by the boys and girls of St Francis National School and St Vincent’s Secondary School, and the boys of Dundalk Rugby Club, who had lined the road to the church.
Then up into the churchyard proper, where the coastal community and emergency first responders lined the way in a moving tribute to one of their own, a fallen hero in the eyes of all.
Behind the coffin, Capt Duffy’s widow and soulmate Hermione and their young children Esmé and Fionn made their way. They were met at the church door by Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland.
The tide was out in Blackrock cove, the smell of the water wafting in occasionally on the light breeze. Low cloud smothered the Mournes, still sweeping down to the sea.
In his homily, his uncle Fr Stephen Duffy said “words are not only inadequate, but well nigh useless”, though words there had to be, all of them elegant and spoken from the heart.
Symbols of their father’s life and loves were presented at the altar by Esmé and Fionn – including a pair of slippers, the signal that always marked that he was home and off-duty.
“He loved his slippers,” said family friend Tia McCaughey. And there were the wedding bands from Mark and Hermione’s marriage 17 years ago, and the trio of rings he gave her for her 40th, one for him and one each for the children.
Equally, there was his coast guard helmet, a rugby ball, a story book and a clutch of cards made over the years for him by his two children “full of the love they had for their Daddy”, said Ms McCaughey.
Struggling to check his emotions, Capt Duffy’s brother Gavan said: “Length of days is not what makes age honourable. . . God has taken him up. . .” Regaining his composure, he read on: “Coming to perfection in so short a while. . .”
Ms McCaughey spoke in a strong voice, quoting Corinthians: “In short there are three things that last,” she read, “faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”
Overcoming his initial fear about the inadequacy of words, Fr Duffy uttered words that brought comfort: “Our hearts become paralysed in shared grief and shared loss.”
The loss of Rescue 116 near Blackrock island off Co Mayo was a community catastrophe, he said: “The hearts of all of us are heavy today; heavy and sad because one of our finest and best people has been taken away from us.”
Having first heard the news of the tragedy, Fr Duffy said: “I understood perhaps for the first time, the cry of Jesus on that terrible night in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?’
“It seemed so unfair that while the rest of us were left untouched, a young man such as Mark, happy, generous to a fault, innocent of heart and soul, beloved of his wife and children and family and all of us, should have been so tragically removed from among us.
“I am quite certain,” said Fr Duffy, “that Mark, at this very moment, is as usual, not thinking of himself but only for his children Esmé and Fionn, and his grieving wife Hermione.”
Hermione’s own words, read for her by Garda Declan Whelan, a long-standing friend of Mark, most acutely expressed her husband’s character and her love for him.
“The sea,” she wrote, “it pulled Mark to it – its ebb and flow, its colours, the wave and the stillness, the calm, the rage, the reflecting sun on the water, the low tide, the high tide – it was part of our lives.”
The couple were together for 26 years. She said he had loved flying helicopters, but back home, he would shut the door end “engross himself in our home life – he was a Garda Cósta na hÉireann, but he was also our guardian”.
She added: “He put a safety net around us in our home. He was fearless. He lived consciously each day and for the moment. He dug the holes in the garden and I planted the plants. I ordered the greenhouse and he built it.”
The Duffy home had been full of music. So, too, was his funeral. Soprano Celine Byrne sang Pie Jesu (Faure), O Mio Babbino Caro (Puccini) and, together with St Peter’s Male Voice Choir, Panis Angelicus.
Prayers were said for Capt Duffy’s colleagues, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, whose funeral took place on March 18th, and their colleagues, winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith, both still missing.
President Michael D Higgins, accompanied by his aide de camp, Col Michael Kiernan attended, while the Taoiseach was represented by his ADC, Lt Col Kieran Carey.
Soon, the tide was in, the clouds had lifted and the Mournes were visible once more. One Blackrock had taken Capt Duffy, pulling him into its sea. Another Blackrock said goodbye, and wrapped his family in a protective embrace.