Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan’s mother Mary died after the “horror of a tragic accident” on Inishbofin Island on a much-anticipated holiday during which she was to return to her native Bantry Bay in Co Cork, her funeral has heard.
At her funeral service on Saturday morning at St Joseph’s Church, Sandycove, Co Dublin, where “committed Catholic” Mrs Ryan was a regular mass-goer, prayers were said for the staff at the Inishbofin House Hotel.
Green Party leader Mr Ryan and his siblings John, Robert and Marion took turns to deliver emotional tributes to their mother, whose 86th birthday was on Friday, describing their shock at the unexpected death of a “witty, vibrant, forward-looking, curious woman”.
President Michael D Higgins, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, Tánaiste Leo Vardakar and Attorney General Paul Gallagher were among those who attended.
Choking back tears, Mr Ryan told mourners: “We would have loved to have said ‘we love you’ one more time. But as someone said over the last few days: ‘She already knew that’.
“Such love is never lost and does not decay.”
Mr Ryan said his mother and his father Bob — “an artistic, spiritual loving man” who died, also aged 86, in 2017 — met while colleagues in the Munster and Leinster Bank in Dublin’s Dame Street. Their love “was the foundation stone of our lives,” he said.
Although Mrs Ryan missed her native west Cork, she “always said Dublin people are the most decent people you could meet”.
She was the “last generation of Irish women who had to give up their job to be married”, but her business acumen persisted, having been a director in Mr Ryan’s cycle-touring business and selling her husband’s paintings to gift shops countrywide during a prolonged banking strike.
She also played a “major role” in his father’s “distinguished career”, he added.
Mr Ryan drew laughter from the congregation as he retold one of his favourite memories of his mother, of him sitting as a child at the bottom of the stairs listening to her talk " for what seemed like ages” with friends on the phone.
“The only thing we could hear was her encouraging running commentary to the other person’s tale: ‘No.. no.. no.. you don’t say.. no.. no.. tell me’.
“We didn’t understand then how much such listening meant. Her words of wisdom and support to close friends was her stock in trade.”
Thanking dignitaries for turning out, John Ryan said the Ryans are a “political family by default” because of his brother Eamon, but added that “politics was a big part of the family.”
“The past few days have been very difficult for us,” he said. “This death came completely out of the blue, for our very healthy vibrant mother.”
His mother was adventurous with an inquiring mind, did well academically and “in a different era could have excelled in any career — but Irish society’s priorities in the 1940s and 1950s weren’t in that direction.”
Describing his mother as a “natural mother devoted to her family”, Robert Ryan apologised for getting upset, adding: “mum would be delighted I’m crying by the way.”
“Although we laid her to rest this week — a week we learned she turned 86 — we take little comfort in her long life. She was not ready to depart the scene, and we most certainly were not ready to let her go,” he said.
“To us she was a witty, vibrant, forward-looking, curious woman, who was an integral part of all of our lives. We expected her to remain just so for many years to come, and we are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
“We miss her terribly and the void will be felt for many years.”
Marion Ryan said her mother was “so excited” to be heading to Inishbofin last weekend and “then onto her beloved west Cork”.
“Life brought her to last Tuesday, a great day , full of evening plans for dinner and a very keen interest in joining in a local pub quiz . That was not to be,” she said.
“Even through the horror of a tragic accident, we find comfort that her beautiful granddaughter Isabella was so close by, and her calmness and her loving hands were on mum, followed very soon, as always, by Robert and Eamon.
“We are fortunate that we were with mum as she slipped so peacefully into the next world,” she said.