‘Let the laughter be heard,’ Emma Hannigan’s funeral told

‘I never had a day where I felt lonely,’ writer tells mourners in eulogy delivered by priest

 Writing “took me away to wonderful places where no one was sick, ” Emma Hannigan told mourners at her funeral in a eulogy delivered by Fr Gerry Byrne. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES

Writing “took me away to wonderful places where no one was sick, ” Emma Hannigan told mourners at her funeral in a eulogy delivered by Fr Gerry Byrne. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/THE IRISH TIMES


The writer Emma Hannigan, who died on March 3rd aged 45 after a long fight against breast cancer, bade farewell today to her family and friends, and to the many fans of her writing.

Her packed funeral service in Dublin, which she devised down to the last detail, was infused with one simple message: the most important thing above all else is love.

She entered the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in Foxrock in a wicker coffin, graced with a spray of pink flowers, to the strains of the song Smile, played on harp and flute.

There were no words but few of the 1,000 people there, many of them children from St Gerard’s School in Bray and Rathdown School in Glenageary, both attended by her own children, Sacha and Kim, could not but hear them in their head.

Smile though your heart is aching Smile even though it’s breaking . . . Her character and beauty shone from the cover of the missalette. There she sat, on the floor, in washed blue jeans and a loose-fitting white blouse, bare feet crossed, red-painted toe nails, her head resting to one side, leaning on one hand, a big smile on her face, red lips and shining eyes, trim blond hair.

It was a picture of femininity, worn with lightness and grace, of happiness and of warmth.

Ms Hannigan released her family – husband Cian, son Sacha and daughter Kim – from the burden of active participation in the funeral. Instead, she asked Father Gerry Byrne, chaplain at the Blackrock Clinic, to officiate and, with him, chose exactly what would be said and read, and what would be played.

Harpist Áine Ní Dhubhghaill and flautist Ellen Cranitch played the Cindy Lauper song Time After Time, On Eagle’s Wings (with Fr Byrne reading the words), Your Song by Elton John and She’s Like The Wind (Patrick Swayze), and, before the final commendation, Michael Jackson’s version of Smile was sung.

As it was, the only other sound in the church was of gentle sobbing.

Ms Hannigan wrote her own eulogy. It was read by Fr Byrne.

In it, she thanked the many people who helped her in life and near death, and the many who were with her in all her long years fighting the genetically-linked breast cancer to which she finally succumbed.

She wrote of her childhood, of the sibling rivalry with her brother Timmy, of training to be a chef and then a beauty therapist, of meeting Cian and having children – “all my dreams had come true”, as she said.

And then she wanted to be a Spice Girl, she wrote, before “the deadly cancer gene” struck.

Writing “took me away to wonderful places where no one was sick”, as she put it.

To Sacha and Kim, she said “I hope you know that I will always be in your hearts and you will be in mine.”

She did not subscribe formally to any religion, she said, but she “always had my angels” – among them the staff at the Blackrock Clinic.

In the only external contribution to the service, six of them stood on the altar as David Harkins’ reflection She Is Gone was read by one, Missy.

But it was Emma Hannigan’s own words that carried most weight and feeling.

“I can hold my head up and say that I never had a day where I felt lonely or as if I had nobody to turn to. I never felt on my own,” she said in the eulogy read by Fr Byrne.

“My cancer fight was up there for all to read on Facebook or through my blog. The peer to peer support that I received there was priceless. I had such loyal readers and followers who took my hand and walked along by my side. I could go on and on forever and I wish I had the time but that’s where I am falling short.

“To each person I met along my way - thank you; thank you for helping to shape my life. I have no regrets, only that I have to leave right now. But they say that all things happen for a reason. I don’t want to go looking over my shoulder or waving my fist in anger. That was never my style. But the truth of the matter is this: I would never have wanted to go, there would never have been enough time so I am trying to be gracious about it.

“I know it is practically illegal to champion all things pink in this all bustling world where being girlie can be mistaken for being stupid. But I would like to be remembered as somebody who believes that fairies live at the bottom of the garden, that unicorns exist but they are simply shy and that angels flutter on all of our shoulders.

“There is enough gray in the world already. Let the pink fluff and sparkles break through. There’s enough sadness, suffering and strife. Let the laughter be heard.

“Farewell. Look after each other. Be kind. Be happy. Be grateful. And most of all, be yourself. Life is short. It is so very, very precious and it’s not a dress rehearsal. So enjoy; eat chocolate, drink strong coffee, have a fabulous glass of wine and buy those clothes; walk in those high heels and let world know that you are here to work hard and to play even harder. Thank you all for making my life so amazing. I’ll watch over you and please know that I am never truly gone. I will live on in the sparkles in your heart.

“Love always – Emma.”

The funeral was attended by Capt Eoin Rochford representing President Michael D Higgins. In welcoming Emma and the congregation, Fr Byrne noted that as on Tuesday, the appeal for donations in her memory to Breast Cancer Ireland had reached €140,000.

Emma Hannigan, whose most recent book, Letters to my Daughters, is No 1 on the best seller list, was later laid to rest in Shanganagh Cemetery.