"Never in my life have I been so sad and broken," Pat O'Donohue told the congregation at the end of his brother John's funeral Mass in St Patrick's Church, Fanore, Co Clare on Saturday.
But he was grateful for such wonderful neighbours, friends and family, he told the congregation in the church and in a specially-erected marquee in its grounds to where the Mass was being relayed.
Poet and author Dr John O'Donohue (52) died unexpectedly in his sleep on January 3rd while on a visit to the Avignon area of France.
His publications included Beauty, Anam Cara, Eternal Echoes, and Benedictus.
Pat told the congregation one of John's favourite jokes, which he enjoyed "with that great loud laugh". It was about a farmer who sold his four pigs in the one day, carrying each pig to the fair separately and selling it before going back home for the next one. The farmer was asked why he didn't bring all the pigs in together and that what he was doing was an awful waste of time. "Sure what's time to a pig?" was the farmer's response.
"We are blessed as a family to have such a wonderful mother (Josie)," he continued, as the laughter subsided. "My God did John love that woman . . . We were blessed also with a wonderful father (Paddy) and uncle Peter who lived with us."
Their father had been a stonemason and, when they had helped him build walls, he would say to them "every stone has its own place in the wall and it's up to you to find it". He believed John took that as his inspiration.
John was "such a big, beautiful and gentle presence in the world, also a protective presence. When you were with him you felt minded," he said.
Earlier, the Mass celebrant Fr Martin Downey described Dr O'Donohue as "priest, poet, prophet, philosopher, mystic and, as he often called himself, peasant of this valley". He had been baptised in St Patrick's in early January 1956, Fr Downey said. He recalled that when asked recently what it was that haunted him, John had replied: "It is the sense of my days running through my fingers like the finest sand and I can't stop it."
Fr Downey continued that "to understand John one must understand his faith. First and foremost, he was a priest. He saw Christianity as not simply doctrine, but as an event - one in which a divine reality impinges upon human realities in an earthly visible form". For him life was "a sacrament".
As with Van Morrison, he believed that if you loved the life you live, you'll get blessings from above. "Van Morrison, for John, was up there with John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart." John "risked everything to walk a different path and live passionately the integrity of his own truth".
Fr Downey said John had "forged in the smithy of his soul a beautiful spirituality that is a benefit to Ireland and the contemporary world".
Chief mourners were Dr O'Donohue's mother Josie, sister Mary, brothers PJ and Pat, his partner Kristine Fleck, sisters-in-law Dympna and Eilis, brother-in-law DJ, nieces Triona and Katie, nephews Peter and Shane.
Mass concelebrants included Bishop Martin Drennan of Galway and Bishop Willie Walsh of Killaloe. The Bishop-designate of Achonry, Msgr Brendan Kelly, officiated. The former bishop of Galway, Éamonn Casey, also attended.
Among the large number of priests officiating were author Fr Pat O'Brien; RTÉ editor of religious programmes Fr Dermod McCarthy, Fr Leo Ó Morchain; composer and singer Fr Liam Lawton; Fr Pat Moore; writers and columnists Fr Kevin Hegarty and Fr Brendan Hoban. The Allelulia, by Fr Lawton, was sung by Fr Des Forde, parish priest of Ballyvaughan.
Among the many friends of Dr O'Donohue present were Minister for Education Mary Hanafin; film-maker Lelia Doolan, who performed one of the readings; broadcaster John Quinn and historian and journalist Brendan Ó Cathaoir.
Among the musicians and singers taking part were Davy Spillane, Charlie Piggott, Nóirín Ní Riain, and Dr O'Donohue's nephew Peter.
On Saturday, February 2nd, there will be a special memorial service in Galway Cathedral to celebrate Dr O'Donohue's life, at a time to be announced. Similar services are being planned for the US and UK.