“Albert never once regretted risking everything he had for peace. Though like many others he never knew if his efforts were really appreciated – he does now.” – Fr Brian D’Arcy.
HE HAD A large part in bringing peace to the North, and in death he united people from all sides of Irish politics.
Fianna Fáil’s Albert Reynolds may have entered the world of politics late, at the age of 44, but he left quite an impact on political history.
At the age of 81, he passed away last week after a battle with Alzheimers, and today sees him laid to rest.
Reynolds was Taoiseach for a combined 33 months, taking over from Charles Haughey initially for nine months in 1992. This came after a period as a very successful businessman, in both the ballroom and pet food arenas.
But it was clear from his moving funeral ceremony this afternoon, led by longtime close friend Fr Brian D’Arcy, that he was first and foremost a family man.
Into Sacred Heart Church in Donnybrook the mourners arrived, among them President Michael D Higgins, Sir John Major, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, TDs and Senators, former Ministers like John Perry, judicial figures like retired judge Catherine McGuinness, Lord Mayor of Dublin Christy Burke, former President Mary McAleese, former TD Dick Spring, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, Former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave and Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
The prayers were led by Fr D’Arcy, while the Palestrina Choir and Red Hurley brought the music – the latter hinting at Reynolds’ ties to the showband days.
As the funeral mass began, Fr D’Arcy welcomed the President, and followed with a personal mention of Sir John Major, who remarked to D’Arcy on the way in: “Where else would I be on this day?”.
Every element of the funeral had an intensely personal feel to it, from the mass booklet to the offertory gifts.
In the former, a smiling Albert Reynolds embraced his wife Kathleen. Beneath the portrait was a quote from Reynolds:
Marrying Kathleen was the best decision of my life.
At the conclusion of the booklet was a poem by Brendan Kennelly, chosen by his children:
His grandchildren brought the offertory gifts, taking symbols of his “rich and varied life” to the altar.
- His Freedom of Longford award
- A book of tickets that symobolise his time in the ballroom business
- A model of a 1963 CIE carriage, representing time as a railway clerk
- A telephone representing his role in the transformation of the telephone system
- A family photograph
- A deck of cards
- His personal copy of the Downing St Declaration
- A sliotar and Gaelic football
- His autobiography
- A racing card
- A copy of the Longford News
- And a tin of dog food, representing his success in starting pet food company C&D Foods.
In the homily, Fr D’Arcy spoke about how the Reynolds family wanted the funeral ceremony to be “uplifting, devotional and joyous”.
“Wherever Albert was, there was joy,” said D’Arcy.
Family memories of good and tough times
The only mention of Reynolds’ critics came in the prayers of the faithful, when his daughter Miriam noted how her father was “frequently isolated, shunned and vilified”, a “lonesome boatman” but “blessed with noble qualities” which sustained him during those gruelling years.
But the rest of the memories focused on family.
His daughter Cathy recalled a moment that occurred during the time when Alzheimers had taken away her father’s ability to recall names or communicate.
One night, as she checked in on her parents at home, she saw them sitting hand in hand at the side of their bed, her father reciting the Hail Mary.
It was a “a profound moment”, she said, asking the assembled people to recite the Hail Mary one last time with him.
In another touching moment, two of his caregivers brought the gifts of the bread and wine before communion.
Daughter Andrea shared a reflection about her father, and what he said to her when she had failed an exam:
Dad just put his arm around me and said ‘I’m delighted for you – you will learn more about life from this experience than if you passed with flying colours’.
“He knew where he was going”
It was a moving speech by his son Philip that will remain in people’s minds when they think of the ceremony.
“No matter how much notice we are given, the end when it comes we are not quite ready for,” said Philip.
He described how Alzheimers had robbed Albert’s grandchildren of the opportunity “to see the real dad, the family man, his lifetime’s teenage love for their granny and his wife, and the craic that endeared him to all of our friends as much as it was to ourselves”.
Albert Reynolds was a man who “knew where he was going and he knew what he wanted in life”, said his son.
The peace process
Fr D’Arcy shared many personal stories from his time with the Reynolds family.
At Albert and Kathleen’s Golden Jubilee, in the latter years of his life, D’Arcy “thanked the Lord he had used Albert as a key figure” in the peace process.
He recalled looking over at his friend, noticing that “a little tear rested on the top of his cheek”.
He uttered a quite audible whisper: ‘Ah shur, thanks be to God’
He spoke too of how Albert was “to blame” for getting him into the world of communications, asking him to write for a new showband publication under the name “Hughie”.
D’Arcy also revealed that Reynolds’ interest in the North did not come as suddenly as some may have suggested.
“As promoter in show business and showbands, he was in constant contact with the North on both sides,” said the priest.
In showband-land there were no borders. In showbands there was no religious difference, long before it became fashionable.
He spoke of a time in the early 1990s, when mysterious letters would be left at his home for Reynolds, who would send one back in return.
Albert was working away at making contacts and testing the water long before he became Taoiseach.
D’Arcy recalled the night when Reynolds was elected Taoiseach, when he made a promise that before he left his office he would have peace in the North.
For him, peace was the only battle worth waging.
Reynolds took enormous risks, said D’Arcy: “All he was saying was give peace a chance.”
He had the courage to risk everything for peace because he realised nothing worth having was reached from an island of safety.
His motives, said his longtime friend, were “pure”.
Reynolds was a canny businessman, and a dedicated family man. His family’s role in caring for him with “incredible dignity” was noted by D’Arcy. After he passed, his wife Kathleen said:
I’ve done all I can for him now, let ye get on with the preparations and let me get on with me rosary.
The couple shared an unconditional love between them, said D’Arcy.
Albert, may you enjoy eternal peace. May you rest in peace. You were indeed a man of peace.
Albert Reynolds will now be brought with full military honours to be laid to rest at Shanganagh Cemetery.