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‘He gave it his all, he was a master of the art’ – hundreds gather in Dingle to bid farewell to Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh

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As Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh rested for a final time in Dún Síon – his childhood homeplace – on Thursday night, there was little sense that nearby Dingle was bracing to host a wake of national interest, attended even by Taoiseach Simon Harris, hours later. But plans were in place and, on today’s early evidence, they needed to be.

Dingle-bound funeral traffic had been diverted from the main N86 and onto a narrower back road often taken by locals headed for the seaside town. They park near Dingle’s home grounds, Páirc an Ághasaigh, where Dingle, Kerry, and Irish flags flutter at half mast.

By 10am, a full hour before funeral director Donal O’Connor opened his funeral home’s double doors, a queue began to form. By 11am, it had grown by 100 metres and more than 100 people.

“We weren’t sure how long it would take and thought it best to spread it out and allow people travelling from Dublin or wherever to come early and get home early,” Mr O’Connor said of the 11am-to-8pm wake schedule – unprecedented for him.

“There’s a one-way traffic system, we’ve five Portaloos, and there’s a table set up with cases of water. Hopefully that will keep everyone sustained.”

Tipperary man Eugene Shortt was at the top of the queue an hour beforehand. Or he was until he left to retrieve a copy of Ó Muircheartaigh’s autobiography, From Dún Síon to Croke Park, from his car for fellow mourner, Bernie, who travelled from Roscommon.

Mourners pictured at the removal of the remains of Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh in Dingle. Photo: Don MacMonagle

“I left at 5am this morning,” Eugene, a former Telecom Éireann employee, said. “I did a few outside broadcasts with him at Semple Stadium. To have witnessed him in a commentary box was something else. He gave it his all, his hands were always waving, but he was a master of the art.”

The queue had shortened by 1.30pm, but the day’s uniqueness remained apparent. The doors of the funeral home closed and Taoiseach Simon Harris arrived a little while later. His visit was not a long one – he signed a book of condolences, entered the building to extend his sympathies, spoke to a few people and he and his team turned for home – but it firmly underlined that today was not an ordinary day in west Kerry’s capital.

I think he was a man we expected would live forever and ever and ever – but his voice will live forever, thanks be to God.”

The largest funerals around here usually stem from a tragedy, with mourners often walking by the coffin of someone taken before their time. That doesn’t apply today for a man who lived his 93 years as vibrantly and successfully as Ó Muircheartaigh did, but there still is a sense of loss. His family and friends feel that, of course, but it’s more widespread than that. It always is when a wordsmith has nothing further to add.

“It was no effort at all to come here, we all loved Micheál,” RTÉ GAA correspondent Marty Morrissey said.

“He was a legend. You see the queue that’s here already, and I’d say that will go on all day. I think he was a man we expected would live forever and ever and ever – but his voice will live forever, thanks be to God.”

“He set an example everyone wants to live up to,” RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst said. “That’s what everyone aspires to be, to be as good as him and as loved as him, and to represent their area the way he represented the GAA, the Irish language and Kerry. He was a unique person.”

Being the ultimate professional is one thing; being nice should always count for more.

“As CEO of the Gaelic Players Association I wanted to express my condolences,” Tom Parsons said.

“I met him numerous times as a player with Mayo, he always had great words of encouragement, that Mayo would get there, and he talked about seeing Mayo win All-Irelands. But what I found incredible about the man was he took great interest in players, always took time to listen to myself, my own story, injuries and so on, and he was just a very kind, amazing person.”

Bernie, who left Roscommon before 5am, said: “I met him by chance one morning in Dublin on Temple Street one morning, my daughter was going for a check-up.

“I was very upset when I heard he had died, overwhelmed… his humanity and warmth were as big as his charisma.”

St Mary’s Church – a neogothic build that’s more dominant for standing amid a town of squat, brightly painted buildings – was busy today as well; a wedding began there after 1.30pm. But with no limit on numbers tomorrow, spill-over onto Green Street is possible, maybe probable or even certain.

Dingle wasn’t built for days like today or tomorrow. But a town and its hinterland can never account for the number of imaginations one of its residents may go on to capture.

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