Two recent Irish funerals observed: the first was that of Cardinal Desmond Connell, Archbishop of Dublin, and the first Dubliner to be given a cardinal’s hat for 120 years. He was a doctor of philosophy and a professor of metaphysics, and died in February, aged 90. Dr Connell was a conservative on doctrinal matters and was much criticised for his mishandling of the paedophile clerical scandals. Yet his former students said he was a good man, caring and conscientious.
No member of the Irish government attended Dr Connell’s funeral. Nor did any TD (a member of parliament, the Dáil) – just a sole senator, Rónán Mullen. President Michael D Higgins issued a short and perfunctory statement.
Second funeral: Martin McGuinness, Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, and previously the most commanding figure in Sinn Féin-IRA, whose endeavours would have included knowledge of, and often strategic direction of, most bomb attacks on civilians in Britain and Ireland over the time of his stewardship.
To this burial came every significant political figure in Ireland – led by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny – many notables from Britain and from the United States, including Bill Clinton and Senator George Mitchell. President Higgins issued a warm statement about McGuinness’s “unwavering” commitment to “securing peace and prosperity for all of the people of Northern Ireland” – in addition to his personal courtesy and affability.
A funeral is not a place to judge a man’s life, and it is for good reason we don’t speak ill of the dead. All men and women make mistakes, some of them grave, and McGuinness’s last years certainly seemed an amendment for his earlier ones.
Yet the attendance at a public funeral is an interesting point of observation. In this case, it tells us much about the shifts of power. Not too long ago, Irish politicians were falling over themselves to kiss an archbishop’s ring, and a cardinal’s funeral was an occasion to pay their respects to the man and the office. Now that power has drained away, they see little advantage in doing so.
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