Des O'Malley campaigning for a Yes vote on the Nice Treaty in 2002.
Des O'Malley

Funeral of 'person of courage and integrity' Des O'Malley takes place

O’Malley died on Wednesday at the age of 82.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 23rd 2021, 5:44 PM

THE FUNERAL OF the former leader and founder of the Progressive Democrats Des O’Malley has taken place today. 

The service took place at 12pm in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook, Dublin. 

O’Malley died on Wednesday at the age of 82. He had been in poor health for some months. 

 His children, Catherine, Hilary, Fiona, Desmond, Eoin and Maeve, gathered for noon mass and were joined by well-known names from the world of politics.

Among those in attendance were President Michael D Higgins, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former leader of the Progressive Democrats Mary Harney, former party TD Liz O’Donnell, and Fianna Fail MEP Barry Andrews.

Reverend Gerard O’Connor, who is a former member of the Progressive Democrats and left the party to join the priesthood, said: “If at times during this literary I sound more political than priestly please forgive me.

“I was part of Des O’Malley’s efforts to break the mould. The week I departed from the Progressive Democrats to the priesthood, another PD member from Wicklow left to become a Church of Ireland minister and one of our colleagues at the time was a leading light in atheist Ireland.”

He said that O’Malley gathered a varied group of supporters into his political enterprise.

“I know that whatever your political persuasion, either here in the church or if you’re tuning in by digital means, and if you clashed with Des politically, that each of the O’Malleys are very appreciative of your kind support at this time,” he added. 

Fr O’Connor said that O’Malley could be “robust” in debate and “utterly frank and often right”, but added that he could also be “very tender and gentle and loving, witty and funny”.

des-omalley-funeral Family members carrying Des O'Malley's coffin into the Church of the Sacred Heart in Donnybrook. Damien Eagers / PA Images Damien Eagers / PA Images / PA Images

He also acknowledged that many people who would “have loved” to have been there could not attend due to Covid-19 restrictions. 

“The family were very anxious that we would adhere to best practice around the Covid guidelines,” he said.

“For those who are not here, I carry, in to this liturgy your memories, your tears and your emotions for Des O’Malley.”

Two candles were lit in memory of his wife Pat, to whom he was married for 52 years until her death in 2017, as well as his parents Desmond and Una, and brother Peter.

des-omalley-funeral President Michael D Higgins arriving at the funeral. Damien Eagers / PA Images Damien Eagers / PA Images / PA Images

Mourners heard how O’Malley had lived “one wild, precious life”, and had “never dropped the habit of calling a spade a spade”.

The Limerick man was a former Fianna Fáil minister who was expelled from the party following a number of unsuccessful heaves against Charlie Haughey.

He formed the PDs in 1985 and since their foundation every government in the State has been a coalition government, with the now-defunct PDs themselves members of four.

He was one of the country’s foremost politicians in the 1970s and 1980s and was returned as a TD by the people of Limerick at eleven successive elections.

“Des O’Malley brought an incredibly valuable temperament into Irish politics,” Fr O’Connor said. 

“From 1985 onwards, Des regularly articulated that the best role for faith is to challenge politics and to hold the public square morally accountable to values derived from a position of faith.

“Des had a powerful message and it is this – instead of trying to dominate the public square, faith communities should seek to inform and inspire it.

“Des was a powerful persuader for pluralism.”

Former minister Mary Harney referred to him as a “statesman, a person of courage, and integrity” when speaking to mourners. 

des-omalley-funeral Former Irish Progressive Democrats politician Liz O'Donnell, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former leader of the Progressive Democrats Mary Harney. Damien Eagers / PA Images Damien Eagers / PA Images / PA Images

His son Eoin O’Malley said he was grateful for all the “kind tributes” to his father.

“Dad was vain enough that he would have wanted a big funeral and it’s a pity that he can’t get that,” O’Malley added.

“We know that he would have enjoyed reading the papers, listening to the tributes, from his good friend an Uachtarain, from the Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and former taoisigh, including Bertie Ahern here.”

“I think he would also have been appreciative that his almost four decades of public service were appreciated.

“Politics is a tough job and the nature of politics invites criticism and conflict and it’s not always clear that politicians’ efforts are appreciated, so we are grateful for all the kind messages that have been received in the past few days.”

He added that politics takes a toll on politicians and their families.

“While it was sometimes difficult to be in a politician’s family, we were never ashamed of being Des O’Malley’s children.”

He said his father’s pleasures were simple and included watching sport, playing golf, and having a pint.


On Wednesday, President Michael D Higgins said news of O’Malley’s death will have been received with great sadness by all, and called his contribution to public life “extensive and meaningful”.

“His deep commitment to serving the people of Limerick, to the Republic, and to the parliamentary process, since he was first elected to the Dáil in 1968 stands as an outstanding example of dedicated public service, often delivered under great pressure.”

President Higgins said O’Malley “had a major influence on Irish politics, and his legacy and integrity includes a major contribution to the role of coalitions in Irish government formation.”

“Those of us who had the privilege of working with him in the Oireachtas will also remember him as courteous, courageous and principled. As a friend he was gifted with a wry sense of humour, which he shared with generosity and a gift for irony.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said he was deeply saddened by O’Malley’s death.

He said: “His was a life of courage and consequence. He loved his country and was fearless in challenging those who used violence to undermine it. 

“We remember him at the Government meeting today and my thoughts are with his friends and family.”

With reporting by Rónán Duffy.

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