Former finance Minster Brian Lenihan was a patriot who dedicated his awesome courage and towering intellect to his country and family, his funeral has heard.
More than 1,000 mourners packed the small St Mochta’s Church, Porterstown, west Dublin, spilling out into the churchyard and along the country road outside to bid a final farewell to the renowned politician.
In a moving ceremony, marked by tradition, laughter, spontaneous applause and tears, the former Fianna Fáil Dublin West TD — who died last Friday aged 52 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer — was remembered as a great man cut down in the prime of his life.
Close friend and ex-Attorney General Paul Gallagher delivered an emotional eulogy, talking for almost 30 minutes about Mr Lenihan’s enormous bravery in the face of daunting crises in both his public and personal life.
“If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed such courage was possible, I would have thought it was fanciful, the thing of stories and not reality,” he said.
Mr Gallagher said quitting was never an option for his late friend, who he described as a master of all the talents, an inspiration to all, and a great patriot.
“He never flagged, he never gave up, he never hesitated, he never took a step backward and all the time he made it seem so easy to all of us, with his laughter, his brilliance, his magnanimity.”
The theme was reflected throughout the ceremony, from the opening hymn Be Not Afraid.
Another friend Rory Montgomery, Ireland’s ambassador to the EU, in a reading from St Paul to Timothy, echoed remarks by Mr Lenihan in one of his final interviews, in which he stated he had done everything in his power to stave off Ireland’s EU/IMF bailout.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he quoted.
Such were the crowds flocking to the funeral service that a park and ride system was set up to take sympathisers to the church in shuttle buses from a nearby hotel.
Mr Lenihan’s wife Patricia, his teenage son and daughter, Tom and Claire, were applauded as they arrived shortly after 11am. His mother Anne was helped inside by Mr Lenihan’s brothers Conor and Niall, along with brother Paul, sister Anita and aunt Mary O’Rourke.
Well-known figures from politics, the law, industry and Irish society attended the service, including President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, the entire Cabinet and at least 20 clergymen — among them Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin Raymond Field and Church Of Ireland Bishop of Cork Paul Colton, a former rector in Mr Lenihan’s constituency.
A large number of former top government and Fianna Fail party colleagues, including former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen, joined Northern Ireland’s deputy first Minster Martin McGuinness, Stormont finance minister Sammy Wilson and senior trade unionists at the funeral.
Draped in the Irish tricolour, Mr Lenihan’s coffin was adorned with a wooden cross, hewn from an olive tree from the Garden of Gethsemane, and a book of gospels.
Sympathisers continued to sign books of condolences in the churchyard, which had already collected almost 10,000 signatures at his constituency office in Castleknock. Fianna Fáil said another 25,000 people had signed an online book of condolences on the party’s website since Sunday.
Mr Gallagher said the former minister lived for politics, which “excited his every neuron, it permeated his every fibre” but he was also a devoted family man.
“There were three qualities that defined Brian and his public service: duty, honour and country,” he said.
“The other defining quality was his utter devotion to, and love for, his family.”
He said Tom and Claire had lost a wonderful father, whose intelligence meant they never needed to use the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia.
In a lighter moment, he brought sustained applause and laughter to the congregation by remembering his former Cabinet colleague’s faults — taking other people’s biros and half-eaten biscuits during top-level government meetings.
:: Remembered by west Dublin constituents
Mr Gallagher said Mr Lenihan appreciated being asked to speak at the annual Michael Collins commemoration at Beal na mBláth, in Co Cork last year.
The invitation, traditionally reserved for his political rivals in Fine Gael, was a public acknowledgement of how he transcended politics, he said.
Ending the touching eulogy, Mr Gallagher paid tribute to Mr Lenihan by reading from the Roman poet Horace’s Odes.
“He fashioned a monument more lasting than bronze, a monument higher than the royal site of the pyramids, a monument that cannot be destroyed by the gnawing rain, by the unbridled north wind, by the immeasurable succession of years, by the flight of the ages,” he said.
“He will never wholly die, a good portion of his being will escape death. He will ever grow fresher in the praise of posterity. Farewell Brian.”
Fr Eugene Kennedy, a family friend and retired parish priest who celebrated the Mass, said the people of west Dublin would remember Mr Lenihan as someone who always cared for them, even when burdened by major national issues and his failing health.
The new Blanchardstown hospice, which he helped establish, would remain a monument to his work. “What a cruel irony that he was among its first homecare patients,” he added.
Crowds outside the church applauded again for several minutes as Mr Lenihan’s coffin was taken outside under military escort by the Defence Forces before a private burial at St David’s Church graveyard, Kilsallaghan.