Mourners told they would get Gregory sardonic look

 

The late Tony Gregory was excluded by an establishment that finally turned out to embrace him, writes Kathy Sheridan

IN ST Agatha's, the church where Tony Gregory was baptised and once served as an altar boy in his beloved north inner city Dublin, the State's political establishment gathered for his funeral Mass.

What they heard yesterday was a pointed message about his life-long exclusion by much of that same establishment, and a message directed at certain publicity-conscious politicians who might lay claim to his mantle.

"He was for 25 years systematically excluded by every political party from the position of lord mayor and any other position on Dublin City Council. Just as for the most part of his years in the Dáil, he was excluded . . ." said his long-time friend, Cllr Maureen O'Sullivan, in a eulogy delivered before a coffin draped in a stylised version of the Starry Plough .

Only a few weeks from death, he had made the effort to enter the Dáil to speak on the education cuts, she added, but was not allowed speaking time.

"So," she asked to sustained applause, "how would he have dealt with certain politicians and their lavish tributes and praise in the last few days? Or those people speaking profusely about him in death, but during his life when he came looking for help, never so much as put a leaflet in a letterbox? I think they would all be getting the Gregory look - you know, the sardonic one . . ."

In fact, she implied, he had anticipated this. "At Tony's wishes, the burial and after the burial are private. They are for his relatives, his close friends, canvassers and supporters who maintained their loyalty towards Tony over the years - and for those politicians, regardless of their politics, who had a genuine friendship with Tony over the years. His funeral is not a photo opportunity," she said emphatically to a congregation headed by President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Brian Cowen and former taoiseach and local TD Bertie Ahern.

She distinguished between "Tony the politician, who didn't do much smiling" and "Tony the personal friend, who did". This was the Tony with "the great sense of humour, who was great company, a great teller of stories . . . An outdoor person who loved the sea, who loved walking, and enjoyed his trips to Cape Clear . . . one who loved cooking and loved eating."

The simple, moving service, much of it celebrated by An tAthair Piaras Ó Duill in Irish at Tony's request, included the traditional May hymn, Bring Flowers of the Rarest, sung in a church still garlanded with Christmas wreaths, a twinkling tree, and white altar flowers. The prayers of the faithful were read by Tony's partner, Annette Dolan, in a clear, confident voice that wavered only at the end.

The first burst of applause - and an intimation of the feeling among mourners - came earlier, during Fr Peter McVerry's homily, when he said: "Politicians come and politicians go and although they won't thank me for saying it, politicians get forgotten."

He continued when the applause faded: "Tony Gregory will not be forgotten . . . Tony was my idea of a true Christian; a person who imitated Jesus in giving everything he was, for the sake of his brothers and sisters."

To a murmur of amusement, Fr McVerry recalled Tony the iconoclast who "made open-necked shirts respectable, much to the consternation of the establishment of that time - but Tony never sought to identify with the establishment, and indeed, I think the feeling was mutual . . ."

Noel Gregory also drew sustained applause when he preceded a passionate rendering of Joseph Mary Plunkett's I See His Blood Upon the Rose, with the suggestion that "Tony would want us all to be mindful of the Palestinian victims of the brutal Israeli aggression . . . in Gaza."

Outside, four senior gardaí - Assistant Commissioner Michael Feehan, Chief Supt Pat Leahy, Supt Sean Ward and Supt Ray Barry - stood to attention.

Bishop Eamon Walsh, who concelebrated the Mass, remarked that "We preached; Tony was the sermon." Later, Joe Higgins, the Socialist Party leader and former TD, delivered the graveside oration, partly through Irish, saying that for more than 30 years, Tony Gregory "stood out as a rock of political integrity and independence . . . In 2003, the record of the Dáil will show that he moved the first comprehensive motion in opposition to the then impending criminal invasion of Iraq. Everything he said then has tragically been vindicated."

Those present also included Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin, Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin, Minister for the Gaeltacht Eamon Ó Cuiv, chief whip Pat Carey, the Lord Mayor of Dublin Eibhlin Byrne and the leaders of all the main political parties including Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, Gerry Adams and Ciarán Cannon.

The attendance also included politicians Cyprian Brady, Seán Haughey, Trevor Sargent, Michael Woods, Finian McGrath, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Mary Lou McDonald, Ciaran Cuffe, Dan Boyle, Joe Costello, Patricia McKenna, Christy Burke and Clerk of the Dáil Kieran Coghlan.

Also present were David Begg, Fergus McCabe, John O'Shea, Hugh O'Flaherty and his wife Kathleen, Alice Leahy, Padraic Ferry, Bill Cullen, Nicky Kelly, Rose Dugdale, Nell McCafferty, Theo Dorgan, Maol Muire Tynan, Máirtín Ó Méalóoid, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Vincent Browne, Shane Ross, Michael Farrell and Seán Dublin Bay Loftus.

The Irish Timeswas represented by editor Geraldine Kennedy.