Inner-city activist Fergus McCabe ‘always available’, funeral told

Crowds sing Inner City Song and line north Dublin streets to pay respects to activist

Large crowds lined the roadside at Summerhill in Dublin's north inner city on Monday to pay their respects to the veteran community activist Fergus McCabe who died last week.

Unable to attend a service due to Covid-19 restrictions, they stood along the route and sang the Inner City Song, as Mr McCabe’s family got out of their cars to look on. It would be the last interaction the community would have with the 71-year-old who had served them throughout his life.

"Driving here today and seeing people line the streets, wishing him well and singing the Inner City Song was just breathtaking and he would have absolutely loved it," his daughter Ella noted during a brief service streamed online to hundreds of people as far away as France and Sweden.

From Marino, Dublin, Mr McCabe was at the centre of the Inner City Organisations Network and the CityWide Drugs Crisis Campaign. He was also involved with the Young People At Risk organisation, the National Substance Misuse Strategy Committee and the National Oversight Group on the implementation of the National Drugs Strategy.

Reflecting on how good a father he had been, Ella said he had served in much the same role for so many other young people in the city.

“You always felt heard, you always felt special, and he was always available,” she said.

She recalled a childhood shaped in part by his personality – games of musical chairs played out to protest songs; pocket money stashed under books on the histories of Bizmark, Parnell and Lincoln.

“At family gatherings or with friends the guitar would be out again and the political debates would be raging,” she said, describing humour to the end. “Funny selfies” sent while receiving radiation treatment; a birthday dinner on the eve of his death in which he had kept his family “in stitches”.

"I wanted especially to thank Helena in front of you," his daughter read out on his behalf. "Throughout our time together and no more than now in my dying days, her care and love, respect and wisdom, have been exceptional. We had a really happy time and so much fun. And anything I did in life or work bore her kind imprint."

The life and work of Mr McCabe, who died on Thursday after a long illness, has left an imprint on the city – in tributes, President Michael D Higgins said the activist had chosen "hope over cynicism" as he "advanced the goals of countless" social justice and equality projects.

Also speaking at Monday’s service, Maureen O’Sullivan, the former TD and contemporary of Mr McCabe’s, excused herself for the cliche but said he had walked the walk in his pursuit of progress.

“Fergus was a doer; he looked for solutions that could be realised,” she said, noting his belief in consensus building.

“He challenged and he pushed and he shoved and he demanded and he held people and authorities to account. And like in one of his songs, he never backed down.”

Mr McCabe is survived by his wife Helena and his three children Ella, Kathy and Eoin.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times