Hundreds attend funeral of Albert Reynolds

FORMER taoiseach Albert Reynolds has been remembered at his state funeral as a determined peacemaker who led Ireland with honesty and deep rooted goodness.

Daughter Andrea kisses the coffin of Albert Reynolds during funeral mass. Picture: PA
Daughter Andrea kisses the coffin of Albert Reynolds during funeral mass. Picture: PA

Hundreds of mourners from the world of politics, business, horse racing and music gathered at the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook, Dublin to pay their last respects.

Pope Francis set the tone for the service with a telegram for the family honouring Mr Reynolds’ work towards peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

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“Recalling with gratitude the late taoiseach’s efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Ireland, His Holiness prays for the eternal repose of his soul,” the pontiff said.

Mr Reynolds was a religious man who prayed up until his death aged 81 last Thursday.

He is survived by his wife Kathleen, two sons, Philip and Abby, and five daughters Emer, Miriam, Leonie, Cathy and Andrea.

They confirmed last year that their father had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which the funeral heard in truth took them from him many years before now.

The family took centre stage at the state funeral where Taoiseach Enda Kenny and President Michael D Higgins joined former taoisigh Liam Cosgrave, John Bruton, Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen to lead a long line of dignitaries paying respects.

In a heartfelt eulogy Philip, the elder son who now runs the C&D Foods business, described his father as “an innately good man” who has “slipped away to do his next deal”.

He touched on suggestions that Mr Reynolds’ legacy of helping to create lasting peace in Ireland was only celebrated with his death and not while he was alive.

“Few of us will ever bend the course of history but our collective efforts can make this a better place. How successful he was in his life is for others to judge. To us it does not matter, he was simply brilliant,” he said.

“To know dad was to understand him - satisfied with his life’s work, because he lived it with goodness at its core, a generosity of spirit that people liked and a brilliance of mind to bring those two fantastic attributes together to make a difference.”

Philip Reynolds said his father was a character of honesty and deep goodness.

Mr Reynolds’ grandchildren offered gifts symbolising his life including a book of cloakroom tickets for his days running dancehalls, a tin of dog for his C&D Foods business, a copy of the Longford News, his personal copy of the Downing Street Declaration, a race card, a football and sliotar used in Gaelic games, a deck of cards, a telephone, a family photo from 1980, a replica train carriage and the Freedom of Longford award.

A photograph of the former taoiseach was on display in the church along with the quotation from a sermon by James Freeman Clarke: “A politician thinks about the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”

A separate picture of Mr Reynolds with his wife adorned the mass booklet with the proud quote: “Marrying Kathleen was the best decision of my life.”

The state funeral involved the coffin being draped in the Irish Tricolour and pall bearers from the Defence Forces carrying Mr Reynolds’ remains from the church and again at Shanganagh Cemetery in Shankill, Co Dublin were he was buried.

Eighteen outriders formed a cavalry motorcycle Escort of Honour to bring the cortege to the graveyard.

The rain soaked cemetery was the scene for final prayers and a volleys of shots fired over the burial plot. The Reynolds family also received the Irish Tricolour from the coffin.

Prayers of the faithful were offered during the mass by Mr Reynolds’ children, each of which recalled a characteristic of his life, work and personality.

Miriam remembered her father’s doggedness and dedicated her message to the marginalised.

“In the relentless pursuit of his political objectives dad was frequently isolated, shunned and vilified - the Lonesome Boatman,” she said.

“Fortunately for all of us he was blessed with noble qualities which sustained him though those bruising, gruelling years.”

Born in November 1932 in Rooskey, Co Roscommon, Mr Reynolds was elected to the Irish parliament in 1977 and went on to become taoiseach in February 1992 in a coalition government.

He led two coalitions but turbulent political events at home collapsed each partnership and he will go down in history as serving some of the shortest times as taoiseach.

Among those attending the funeral were Sir John Major, who signed the Downing Street Declaration with Mr Reynolds in 1993 and paved the way for peace talks involving the British and Irish governments and Sinn Fein.

At the opening of the mass, chief celebrant Father Brian D’Arcy, a friend of Mr Reynolds’ for 50 years, made special mention about the attendance of Sir John, a friend of Mr Reynolds in the years after both left office.

Fr D’Arcy said he told the former prime minister it was particularly important for the family that he could be there to which he replied: “Where else would I be on this day?”

The congregation burst into a round of applause.

A number of nurses who cared for Mr Reynolds in his final years also attended the funeral.

Mr Reynolds’s remains were brought to the church on Saturday evening after lying in state in the Mansion House for several hours that afternoon.

The coffin, draped in the Irish Tricolour, was watched over by Garda Donie Hanrahan, who served as Mr Reynolds’ personal protection officer during his time as Taoiseach and for the subsequent 16 years.

Following his death Gda Hanrahan offered to stay with his remains as a final duty.

Tributes flooded in from home and abroad in the days since Mr Reynolds’ death with contemporaries heralding the massive legacy he left after taking risks to carve out the Northern Ireland peace process.

The esteem he was held in for this work was marked by the political figures who attended including Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and former SDLP leader and Nobel prize winner John Hume.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin gave the final blessing at the mass.

“In his life, in his responsibility for the political and economic destiny of those he was called to serve, Albert Reynolds was responsive and creative and determined in his desire to move forward in the search for peace and for a more just, secure and prosperous Ireland,” he said.

“He sought peace with determination. God knows, today we urgently need an international community which seeks peace with similar determination at a moment in which our world is marked increasingly frightening and horrendous violence.”