Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Ronnie Drew: 'Our dad enjoyed his life to the full’

In life, he brought music and joy to all who knew him. In death, it was the friends and colleagues of Ronnie Drew who brought the music as the famed Dubliner embarked on his final journey.

Ronnie (73) was laid to rest in Greystones yesterday after a moving, yet colourful funeral that rivalled any of his concerts with the Dubliners.

In a remarkably fitting tribute, the end of the ceremony saw the congregation clapping and singing along to a selection of Irish ballads that had first brought Ronnie his fame.

There to witness the great celebration were a number of figures from the world of entertainment including U2 manager Paul McGuinness, and musicians Phil Coulter and Paul Brady.

It had been an intense yet memorable few days for Ronnie’s family.

A large wake had been orchestrated in his semi-detached home in Greystones, where friends and colleagues had gathered to say their goodbyes.

Among them, of course, was Barney McKenna, now the last surviving member of the orginal Dubliners.

Shortly after 9.30am, when the funeral cortege began to make its way through the centre of Greystones, shops and businesses shut their doors while locals lined the streets to pay their respects.

Outside the church, the arrival of Shane McGowan in a top hat accompanied by his girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke caused something of a stir.

However, when the main man arrived for his own final show, there was no doubting that this was truly Ronnie Drew’s moment.

His coffin was borne into the church to an uplifting blues number.

This trend was to be continued throughout the hour-long ceremony as the congregation were treated to a selection of the Dubliners’ greatest hits.

For the Dubliner musicians, it was a moment of heartbreak. In fact, their beautiful blue and white floral tribute which lay alongside the coffin said it all.

It read: “To Dear Ronnie, your voice is silent, but your spirit lives on.”

Curate and family friend Fr Denis Quinn brought plenty of smiles as he spoke of his friendship with Ronnie over the decades.

He recalled how Ronnie had attended the church just 14 months ago for the funeral of his wife Deirdre.

At the time, he had said: “I was married to a lady. I don’t know how she put up with me for so long. I wouldn’t have put up with me.”

Such was the huge outpouring of support for Ronnie’s family that parish officials had set up a video link in the adjoining community centre.

This too was packed to the rafters, which luminaries such as Paul McGuinness and Gate Theatre director John McColgan finding a spot to observe the proceedings.

Ronnie’s son Phelim, a noted actor, spoke of the difficult last few years as Ronnie battled with throat cancer.

“My father was a large man, a large character,” he said.

Paying tribute to his sister Cliodna, who had taken responsibility for caring for their father, he spoke of the “wonderful, wonderful love” she had shown him.

To ripples of laughter, he told the congregation how Ronnie had been a surrogate grandfather to so many people and was always found with sweets in his pocket.

The haunting strains of a harmonica played Amazing Grace as the congregation wiped away its tears.

The touching voice of Eleanor Shanley was also called upon to provide the final show for the great Dubliner.

Then it was time for a rendition of The Parting Glass as the curtain came down on Ronnie’s final performance.

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