'You stole our hearts when we were 11 and broke them when we were 25'


A generation who grew up with Boyzone mourned the singer – and their younger selves, writes FRANK McNALLY

THE THREE young women wore black, held white roses, and shed quiet tears as the hearse carrying Stephen Gately’s remains passed slowly up Seville Place. But one of them, Jennifer Long from Crumlin, also had a less visible tribute for her dead hero.

No it wasn’t a tattoo, like the ones the other Boyzone members acquired last week in their friend’s honour, although in a way it was even more indelible.

Jennifer May Stephen Long, as she is known in full, had been preparing for her Confirmation back in the mid-1990s at around the time she first fell in love with the band, and one member in particular. There could be no other choice for her Confirmation name. But lest the bishop might disapprove, he could not be told the full truth. “I had to say it was Stephanie,” she laughed, her eyes still wet.

She and her friends Donna Keegan and Sarah Kavanagh, who also remembered Boyzone from their early shows in Crumlin’s Star Ballroom, were mourning not just for Gately, but for their 12-year-old selves. “We were kids again,” said Donna of the emotions brought up by the funeral. But for Jennifer, it was the end of a relationship that had lasted half her life: “I feel like a widow.”

Although 20-something females dominated among the mourners who travelled from outside Sheriff Street, the band’s second generation of fans was also represented. None was more dedicated than Alex Farrell (12), who had come from Finglas early in the morning to claim a prime seat on a garden wall opposite the church. Wearing a black cloth flower in her hair, she held up a copy of Boyzone’s Own Story, published in 1995, before she was even born. Already, it read as if from another era. In profiles of the band, Gately had still been obliged to maintain a fiction about his romantic preferences: nominating as his “dream date” two female pop stars “because they’re both really sexy”.

The place-names around St Laurence O’Toole Church, where the requiem service took place, are a colourful mixture of the local and universal. Among the streets passed by the cortege was Ferryman’s Crossing: poetic in any circumstances, but especially these. There was an Emerald Street too. After that, the streets off Seville Place take an American turn, with numbers only: First Avenue, Second Avenue, and so on, as if heading for Broadway.

The juxtaposition summed up the short life of the local boy made good. It also summed up his funeral. That the deceased was an international pop-star was obvious from the large media presence, the heavy security, the glamorous guests wearing dark glasses. But this was also the funeral of one of the area’s own, the child of a popular local couple and someone who had never lost touch with home. In this clash of two worlds, Sheriff Street surrendered none of its dignity. The church looked its best: newly painted railings just one of the touches supplied by locals in the days leading up to the funeral. And on a glorious autumn day, the weather looked after the rest.

A local florist supplied mourners with individual white roses at €2 each in aid of charity. A group of children, none of them older than seven, went around selling carnations. But that was as far as commerce went. The event was never less than respectful. Most of the crowd, which numbered about 3,000 by the end of the service, were content to stand quietly, listing to the service as relayed on loudspeakers.

There was applause as celebrities arrived and as the cortege left. But in an area that has been ravaged by drugs and crime, there was applause too for gardaí, who helped ensure that the service was kept private, and who supervised the proceedings with a light hand. When Keith Duffy thanked them for their help – “they said: he was one of us, lads, so don’t worry, we’ll take care of him” – the crowd outside joined those inside in clapping.

With the church remaining locked after the service, the railings had to serve as a shrine. A bouquet of roses with a card from two female fans spoke for a generation. “You stole our hearts when we were 11 and broke them when we were 25,” they wrote. “We will never forget you.”