Brendan O Sullivan

Paidis Funeral Mass

January 5th, 2013
by Brendan O Sullivan

It was like a State funeral. Uniformed men in the front row representing the President and Taoiseach, countless priests on the altar, RTE cameras broadcasting the ceremony to the entire country and, via the internet, to the world. It was the funeral of Paidi O'Se in the small church in Ventry, in Corcha Dhuibhne, in the Kerry Gaeltacht, one week before Christmas Day 2012.

For Paidi had received "cuireadh na Nollaig". He was too young to die, gone before the age of 60 like his comrades from the great team, Tim Kennelly and John Egan. And, in the church, the Christmas crib and the Advent candle were in place.

The Mass begins, the main celebrant Fr Kieran O'Brien. Micheal O Muircheartaigh, a man for all seasons, is master of ceremonies. He calls up Neasa, Paidi's daughter, to read "The Blind Man at Croke Park", one of her father's favourite poems. The line "do they walk proudly now?" resonates as we remember Paidi walking behind the Artane Band in all those finals in the 70s and 80s.

His no. 5 jersey is placed on the altar. His autobiography is placed on the altar. The Mass proceeds. The wonderful singing of Cor Cul Aodh fills the church. After the Gospel, Fr Kieran talks about Paidi. The sun is at its lowest in the sky and a deep darkness has fallen over West Kerry. But he is upbeat too. Quoting Lincoln, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years. Then the Prayers of the Faithful, with Paidi's daughter Siun and his friend and teammate Sean Walsh among those saying the prayers. At the Communion, Slaine Ni Chathalain sings "The Boys of Barr na Sraide" and Jimmy Kelly sings "Raglan Road", appropriately a Kerry song and a Dublin song.

The Mass ends and Micheal is at the lectern again. He calls up Padraig, son of Paidi, who thanks everyone on behalf of the family and speaks movingly of how close he was to his father. The next speaker is Tom, Paidi's older brother. In a relaxed style, he recounts incidents from Paidi's life- his football career, his school career, his mother's protective attitude, his friends who all had the X-factor, his socialising-- he is funny, he is philosophical. "We'll miss him, of course, he was a great character". Another eloquent speaker follows-- Micheal O'Se, friend and confidante of Paidi's, a distinguished half-back himself, with All-Ireland medals from 1969 and 1970. He speaks with fervour and passion, mostly in beautiful mellifluous Irish, using words and actions to describe an incident involving Mick O'Dwyer on the sideline advising Paidi on the field, Paidi scoring a point and thinking he was one up. Needless to say, Micko had the last word. Micheal finishes with "Slan leat, a Ri na scealaiochta", his voice breaking.

And then the nephews. Dara, Tomas and Marc talk with humour and affection about their uncle. Tomas tells the story of Paidi approaching Croke Park with the Westmeath team and going around trying to motivate the players. The problem was that, in one instance, he was psyching up the physio! Dara speaks about a trip to the Canaries where he roomed with Paidi and how his finances became mysteriously depleted. He tells of how Beatrice, Paidi's mother, looked after his interests, making sure he had a good sleep, no matter what time of day it was. Marc talks about Paidi's financial generosity to him when he was a student in Maynooth and describes a trip to Old Trafford when Paidi presents Alex Ferguson with a copy of his book.
Then Micheal O Muircheartaigh relates how he heard about Paidi's death while visiting Mick Finucane, 90 years old and one of the two remaining veterans of the Polo Grounds All-Ireland. He finishes with his unerring and extraordinary ability to find the right words for every occasion. 

Legendary players were mentioned in the tributes; put them together with those present at the funeral and the entire history of Kerry football could be traced. The O Se brothers, stars of the current era; the great team of the 80s and 70s, all present; Micheal O Se, Mick O'Dwyer, Mick O'Connell, Tom Long-we're back to the 60s and late 50s. Paidi had been called after Paudie Sheehy and one of  his early teachers was Mick Murphy, both heroes of the famous 1955 win over Dublin. The captain of that team, John Dowling, gave Paidi his first pair of football boots. Two of Paidi's mentors, Joe Keohane and Paddy Bawn Brosnan, were mentioned with honour, bringing us back to the Polo Grounds and into the 30s. And on the altar, concelebrant with Fr Kieran, was Canon Tom Looney, Kerry GAA historian, biographer of Dick Fitzgerald, grandnephew of Paddy Dillon, Kerry's first All-Ireland winning goalkeeper. And we're back to 1903.

This was the tradition which Paidi was a central part of, which he inherited and passed on. And, as he was carried down the church, to the strains of "Mo Giolla Mear" from Cor Cul Aodh, perhaps those carrying him thought, like Paddy Barry when shouldering the coffin of his teammate, the great Christy Ring, "We carried him, at last". All his friends were in Ventry, it was a sad occasion, but also a  celebration of his life. PO would have enjoyed it.

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