Jackie Healy-Rae funeral: hundreds gather in Kilgarvan

Politicians, family and constituents pay respects to colourful Kerry South TD


Hundreds of mourners gathered in Kilgarvan, Co Kerry, last night for the removal of the remains of former Independent TD Jackie Healy-Rae.

From early afternoon, long queues formed outside the family pub where he lay in repose. They waited patiently in the fading light to pay their last respects to a man who had a huge impact on the people he represented as Kerry South TD from 1997 to 2011.

Cars were parked on a long stretch of roadside and mourners were ferried to the village in a minibus.

Family members and close friends sat around the open coffin in the pub as the mourners passed through. The coffin contained memorabilia from his long life, including his mobile phone and a sticker from his first general election as a candidate. There were also copies of two books, The Mighty Healy-Rae by Irish Examiner journalist Donal Hickey and one featuring a collection of photographs by Don MacMonagle; a small bottle of Canadian Club, his favourite tipple; a hurley from the days when he played for the local Kilgarvan team; and religious material.

Mr Healy-Rae’s remains were later received by local priest Fr Con Buckley. He will be buried today after requiem Mass at noon.

The attendance included former tánaiste and Labour leader Dick Spring, Cork North Central Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fáil Senator Diarmuid Wilson, Kerry South Independent TD Tom Fleming, and former Fianna Fáil TDs John O’Leary, Kerry, and Noel O’Flynn, Cork.

Local political chieftain

The removal was the first stage in the funeral rites of a local political chieftain, which are taking place not far from the small farm where he grew up in the 1930s and 1940s.

Illness incapacitated his father when he was just eight, meaning he had to help on the farm as a child. He left the local national school before his 14th birthday.

It was a tough existence which would leave him with a particular concern for the welfare of smallholders.

Last night, many of those smallholders, from places such as the sprawling Iveragh peninsula in his Kerry South constituency, which he represented in the Dáil, joined the queue to pay their last respects.

With sombre expressions they noted his hard work, fighting on their behalf against some of those “above in Dublin” who might well have forgotten them otherwise. Sometimes it was a matter of facilitating their way through a maze of bureaucracy to secure their entitlements.

Small farmer Jim Breen, a cousin of War of Independence activist and Tipperary TD Dan Breen, came from Sneem to bid goodbye to an old friend and political ally.

“I think he was one of best TDs ever to be elected,” he said. “He was an ordinary, down-to- earth man.”

On Saturday, Mr Healy-Rae made his last journey back to his native Kilgarvan. Hundreds of people lined the streets and there was applause as his remains were taken into the pub, a well-known landmark for locals and visitors

Earlier, he lay in repose in the home of his long-time partner, Kathleen, in Kilcummin, near Killarney.

The journey back to Kilgarvan was a familiar route for the county councillor and later TD who turned grassroots politics into a fine art.

The hearse travelled on a road from Killarney free of the potholes that are part of rural folklore.

Funding secured by Mr Healy-Rae when, as an Independent TD, he supported minority Fianna Fáil-led governments, in the words of one local man, turned narrow country roads into highways.

Healy-Rae dynasty

A welcoming roaring fire blazed from early in the day in the traditional rural pub, which features a photograph of Mr Healy-Rae in election campaigning mode. Some of the family cars parked outside still carried election stickers, emphasising the relentless work rate of the remarkable Healy-Rae dynasty.

It was noted locally that on Friday, after his father had died, Michael Healy-Rae, who succeeded him in the Dáil, still found time to attend the funeral of a constituent.

Controversial politician

Throughout the weekend, family, friends and supporters remembered the life and times of the colourful and controversial politician who broke with Fianna Fáil in 1997 when he failed secure a general election nomination.

Michael recalled the months his father spent in hospital, sometimes in pain, as he battled an illness to which he would eventually succumb.

“He fought the mother of all battles to regain his health,” he added, “until his great heart gave out.”

It was a time to recall the family man, too. Grandson Johnny Healy-Rae, a member of Kerry County Council, remembered growing up in the Kilgarvan pub and helping his grandfather on the family farm.

“I would help him milk the cows in the evening,” he recalled. “He was a county councillor at the time and I would go to council meetings with him.”

He said his grandfather was at his most content when he had time to enjoy a simple rural life.

“He usually had three dogs, Peg the pet pony and two donkeys,” he added. “In the summer he would be in the bog turning turf.”

He recalled that when he retired from the Dáil he had begged his grandfather to visit the United States to see his two brothers and sisters.

“He told me he had no interest at all in going out there,” he said.