John Bruton ‘changed Ireland for the better’, State funeral hears

Leo Varadkar delivers graveside oration for former taoiseach and Fine Gael leader in Dunboyne, Co Meath

The State funeral of former taoiseach John Bruton has heard he was “an exceptionally good man” who changed Ireland “considerably for the better”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered a graveside oration for the former Fine Gael leader at Rooske Cemetery in Dunboyne on Saturday, following funeral Mass at St Peter and Paul’s Church.

Chief mourners included Mr Bruton’s wife Finola, his children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, his grandchildren and his brother, Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton.

President Michael D Higgins, Mr Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Attorney General Rossa Fanning were among those to pay their respect, as well as former taoisigh Bertie Ahern, Brian Cowen and Enda Kenny; Northern Ireland’s First Minister Michelle O’Neill and Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.


Hundreds of people gathered outside the church to watch the funeral, which was live-streamed on a large screen, with traffic diversions in place around the town.

Mr Bruton’s coffin was draped in the Tricolour in line with State funeral ceremonial procedures with around 180 members of the Defence Forces taking part in the proceedings.

Mr Varadkar described Mr Bruton as “our once and always leader” who was a “statesman of unshakeable integrity and moral conviction who led our country with distinction at home and on the world stage”.

He said the former taoiseach’s life was defined by love – “love of family, love of county, love of politics, love of our party, love of country”, while the centre of his life was his wife and children.

Mr Varadkar also said Mr Bruton loved politics and believed it was the best way to achieve real and lasting change for the good.

He said the former Fine Gael leader was an inspiration to him throughout his career and that his love for Ireland was defined by “a noble, true and modern patriotism”.

“When others sullied our flag by carrying out terrorist atrocities in its name, John was a beacon of courage and integrity who offered a vision of an inclusive and peaceful island,” Mr Varadkar said.

Concluding his remarks, Mr Varadkar said Mr Bruton was a man of hope, ideas and faith who had changed Ireland and “changed it considerably for the better”.

In his funeral mass homily, Father Bruce Bradley said Mr Bruton was “honest and honourable, patient and persevering, courageous and committed” and as the Taoiseach had previously said, was “willing to lead even when it meant going against the grain”.

Fr Bradley added that he was “ humble and unassuming” and a man “of integrity and truth”. He also noted Mr Bruton’s “remarkable” political career, which began at age 22, his leadership of the Fine Gael party and the “successes of the unexpected” Rainbow Coalition as well as his later role as EU ambassador to the United States.

Fr Bradley said the former taoiseach was an “instinctive, reflective Catholic” and “rooted in his faith”.

“His life cannot be understood properly apart from that,” he said.

“This was not a faith of slogans but a thoughtful faith lived out in his actions and choices, a faith that does justice, expressed in his life of public service.”

Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan said the Christian principles of co-operation, dialogue, equity and respect were evident in Mr Bruton’s work in relation to Northern Ireland and Europe.

Bishop Deenihan added: “This aspect of his vision and work is best acknowledged in the eloquent yet simple statement that many from varied backgrounds used over the past few days – ‘he was a decent man’. It is the supreme accolade in rural Ireland.”

Mr Bruton’s grandchildren, Robin and Oliver, brought gifts to the altar, which included a family photograph and his book, ‘Faith in Politics’.

His daughters Juliana and Mary-Elizabeth carried out readings while prayers were read out by his brother Richard and sister Mary.

Hymns were sung by Finbar Wright and Lisa Lambe while Mr Bruton’s daughter Emily read out the poem ‘Death is Nothing at All’ by Henry Scott Holland.

When Mass was finished, members of the Defence Force carried Mr Bruton’s coffin via gun carriage to Rooske Cemetery, followed by the funeral cortege, while full military honours were given at the graveside.

Among those also gathered for the funeral were current and former ministers including Helen McEntee, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Coveney, Simon Harris, Charlie McConalogue, Jack Chambers, Thomas Byrne, Nora Owen, Michael Noonan, Alan Dukes, Ivan Yates and Phil Hogan.

A number of current Fine Gael and Meath TDs were present, as was Green Party leader Eamon Ryan and Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik.

Mr Bruton, who led Fine Gael from 1990 to 2001, died on Tuesday, aged 76 following a long illness. He led the Rainbow Coalition Government, which also involved Labour and Democratic Left, between December 1994 and June 1997 and was succeeded as party leader by Michael Noonan in January 2001.

The former Meath TD went on to serve as the EU’s ambassador to the United States from 2004 to 2009.

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times