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Dublin: 16 °C Sunday 25 August, 2019
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'He lifted the gloom of the nation': Dublin says goodbye to Brendan Grace

The Liberties was shut down for the day as fans and friends gathered for the funeral of Brendan Grace.

7742 Grace Funeral_90575615 Crowds watch on as the coffin of Brendan Grace arrives at the Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, Francis Street. Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

THEY WERE SINGING today long before Brendan Grace arrived in the Liberties for the final time. 

As the crowds waited in the early afternoon sun outside the St Nicholas of Myra Church on Francis St – some wearing sunhats, suncream and shorts – those gathered broke out in song to pass the time. 

“Oh Brendan Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger,” the crowd sang. 

It was an apt welcome for a man remembered today as one of Ireland’s greatest ever showmen – someone who could command the stage and charm an audience with well-honed satires and caricatures of Irish life. 

There was little doubt that the hundreds who gathered to say goodbye to Brendan Grace, who died last week aged 68, today saw themselves as closer to him than simply fans. For them, as they listened outside the church to the two-and-a-half hour-long service, it was a moment to remember the comedian whose career had begun only a few streets away on Echlin Street. 

The Liberties might have been in mourning for one of its own, but today was also a homecoming, a re-union and an opportunity to reminisce about a man whose career spanned generations and whose performances attracted fans of all ages. 

Bottler mural A mural painted in recent days just off Francis Street in the Liberties. Source: TheJournal.ie/Dominic McGrath

And among the mourners today were familiar faces who had been both fans and friends. There was Dickie Rock and Daniel O’Donnell, Marty Whelan and Marty Morrissey, Micheál Martin and Bertie Ahern, as well as Twink, Anne Doyle and Brendan O’Carroll. 

Also there were members of the United Nations Veterans Association, many in their 70s and 80s and dressed in Bottler-green blazers, who were there to welcome Grace with a guard of honour.

The service

Like all funerals, there was heartache as his family spoke of the pain of losing Grace. 

“Everything he did was designed to unite people,” his son Brendan told the attendees, while son Bradley praised his “unbridled, pure kindness”. 

The gifts brought to the altar reflected Grace’s many talents. A microphone and a guitar illustrating his musical gifts and love of singing, but also his own books – his autobiography and joke book – that captured his irrepressible humour.

Yet perhaps the greatest testimony to Grace was the laughter inside the church today as speakers, including celebrant Fr Brian D’Arcy, shared their memories of the man known as one of Ireland’s best-loved comedians. 

Coombe Bottler A shop in the Coombe pays tribute to Grace. Source: TheJournal.ie/Dominic McGrath

“His vocation was to lift the gloom of the nation and to lift the gloom of the people who came to see him,” D’Arcy said. 

“He unified the country and sent them home with a smile on their face,” he added.

Alongside the humour too was an appropriate touch of heresy – reasonable enough for a man still loved by younger fans for his turn as a rogue priest. 

It was there in the gospel story. The story of the wedding at Cana partly chosen, D’Arcy said, because of Grace’s Father of the Bride character. 

It was there too in the eulogies – Brian Keane, who managed the performer throughout his career, recounted how Grace had in his final weeks suggested selling some old merchandise at the back of the church. 

“Heaven is a funnier place now,” he said. 

The crowd was a testament to the popularity of the comedian who never lost touch with his local community and who was carried from the church to the sound of “Dublin in the Rare Old Times”. 

As D’Arcy said: “Brendan didn’t have fans or friends. They were the same thing.”

The words would have been warmly echoed by those who waited outside the church in the sweltering heat to wish Grace goodbye before he departed the Liberties for the last time to the Newlands Cross Crematorium, a chorus of “cockles and mussels, alive alive oh” echoing behind him. 

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