Love and laughter to fore in special send-off


OFFICIALLY, IT was a State occasion. But in truth, Dr Garret FitzGerald’s funeral Mass was a paeon to family love and to friendship; to simplicity and humility.

The palpable sense of loss was leavened with the laughter of recognition and even applause. We learned during a Deo Gratiasfrom his children later in the Mass, that he was the only passenger ever to board a Ryanair flight without picture ID – which earned him a admiring round of applause – that when his younger granddaughters recently

asked why their grandmother Joan had such a fear of flying, he told them it was because he used to read her the airlines’ near-miss reports in bed, which raised another hearty laugh.

Such was the extraordinary intimacy in Donnybrook’s Sacred Heart church. There were no massed choirs; no renowned soloists; no homilies from princes of the church; no extravagant wreaths around the Tricolour-draped coffin, which was simply adorned with a cross and a Bible.

Only the congregation proclaimed the fact that this was no ordinary man: it included the President, the Taoiseach and the Chief Justice,

from far-flung ambassadors to a representative of Cork’s Legion of Mary. Seamus Heaney chatted with Michael D Higgins. The wreaths carried messages from sympathisers ranging from “Bono, Edge, Adam & Larry” through to the Governor of the Central Bank. Outside, the citizens of Ireland turned up in their hundreds, braving the wind and rain.

The music was traditional and clearly intended to encourage the congregation’s participation, beginning with the entrance hymn, Morning Has Broken– sung to an Irish melody – to the concluding hymn , Be Thou My Vision, a versified form of St Patrick’s Breastplate. Michael Quinn, the regular Donnybrook church organist, accompanied an ad-hoc choir made up of 10 teenage friends of the FitzGerald grandchildren, all from Alexandra and Loreto schools. Two grand-daughters, Reachbha and Laoise FitzGerald, sang Mo ghrá Thú, a Thiarnaand Ag Críost an Síola capella.

Hugh Tinney, who performed some well-known classical piano pieces – the Moonlight Sonata, Bach’s Prelude in Cand Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude– during Communion, was there as a family friend and piano teacher to Reachbha and Laoise.

The Offertory gifts included flowers from the gardens of his three children; a 1964 volume of Studies, which carried his political philosophy, and his most recent book, Just Garret;an Aer Lingus timetable and a collage of photographs of Dr FitzGerald playing with his small great-grandson.

The involvement of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the readings, former president Mary Robinson – who listed every member of Garret’s immediate family in her prayer of the faithful –

and former Fine Gael minister Peter Barry, reflected long-term ties of friendships. The chief celebrant was Garret’s closest friend, the moral theologian Fr Enda McDonagh. While welcoming the attendance “to this celebration of the life and achievements but above all of the very person”, his voice halted and cracked, before continuing, “the very wonderful person of Dr Garret FitzGerald”.

This was not an easy occasion for anyone, particularly not for the family, he said. “It is not even easy for me as I address you at the funeral of Garret….”.

At times duing his homily, the sense of personal loss was painfully clear, as when he recalled that he had omitted to welcome the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and the Chief Superintendent of the Methodist Church in Dublin: “There are a lot of things one forgets – not so much in the heat as in the distress of the moment.”

He moved easily between Garret the generous friend, the party-lover and party-giver, the child-like enthusiast, to Garret, “that bridging person between our nations, the outstanding leader perhaps of our recent history”.

To Fr McDonagh, they were all of a piece: Garret, whose love of family and friends was inseparable from his commitment to truth, made him Garret, “the great integrator”,

Garret “whose intellectual curiosity and the searching for truth were equally evident in his every act”,

Garret the man of relentless persistence “who was not surrendering to the dismal prophecies we were facing” in recent months, Garret the man whose childlike hope “knew that the world in the end would be good to us and be good for us”.

It was impossible to think of Garret, he said, without thinking of his great loves – his love for Joan, his children, his grandchildren and now, his great-grandchild, his ever growing array of friends, and “his beloved causes”. GK Chesterton’s acerbic comment about people who loved mankind but who couldn’t stand people, could never be applied to Garret.

He talked revealingly about Garret’s Christian faith, which he “cherished in his own undemonstrative fashion ... never in any ostentatious manner”. His intellectual curiosity took him and Joan to weekend theology courses in Edinburgh until friends including Fr McDonagh were persuaded to set up similar courses in Ireland, which he faithfully attended. Above all, he described Garret’s lifelong thirst for knowledge, for engagement, for trust and trustworthiness.

“If love was Garret’s dominating and integrating characteristic, curiosity, in particular intellectual curiosity and the search for truth were equally evident in his every act. Of course he was always seeking the truth in love ... His commitment to truth and to its companions, trust and trustworthiness, is the foundation of all genuine and family solidarity.

“We have recently learned this lesson in Ireland in a particularly harsh way as our professions of trust, of faith in church as well as in politics, banking, development and a range of professions, have betrayed their people’s trust and undermines so much of the fabric of our society which Garret had striven to build”.

“By some conjunction of need and desire ... he found his two great homes in university – which nourished his research along with his deep interest in young people, and politics – his desire to serve people at a national and increasingly international level. Doing the truth in loving service to student and citizen was the hallmark of so much of his later career.

“In this way he was also attempting to restore trust in education, politics, and the wider dimensions of civil society. No easy task. Politicians — some, Irish voters — perhaps many, are notoriously suspicious of intellectuals and in a different fashion, of do-gooders. Both these, in themselves honourable titles, were used in a mocking, put-down way by Garret’s critics.”

He did not add that some of those same critics were doubtless among the congregation.

Only when the 10 army pallbearers arrived, with muted march, to carry his coffin from the church, were we reminded that this was in fact a State funeral. Outside, the formality of the defence forces and colour party presenting arms while raising aloft the black-ribboned Tricolour and flag of the 2nd Eastern Command, contrasted with the spontaneous applause of ordinary people, their clothes damp and cold.

As is traditional, the bereaved family stayed to accept people’s sympathies before commencing the journey, under serried escorts, out the Bray road to Shanganagh cemetery. No military gun salutes awaited him there, at his request, only more applause and deep sadness for the loss of a deeply loved Irish patriot.