Hundreds of gardai bury hero officer shot by Real IRA suspect in border horror
Silence... save for march of a river of blue and sigh of the sea
Garda Tony Golden's coffin emerged from the church into a world of blue.
Ahead lay the broad sweep of Dundalk Bay, a watercolour wash of pale turquoise and yellow, placid under an azure sky which mingled with the sea along the thin cobalt line of the horizon.
On every other side stood a wall of blue, members of the force arrayed side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder. Uniforms spotless, shoes polish-shiny, gold buttons sparkling in the gentle autumn sunshine.
The silence was profound, save for squabbling seabirds and the sorrowing sigh of the surf. Even the tide had flowed in for a final farewell.
Draped in the Tricolour, his coffin was placed in the hearse to begin its slow passage down through the village. Tony's wife Nicola walked behind it, tightly clutching the hands of their two beautiful little girls, Lucy and Alex, a heartbreaking picture of solemn bewilderment, both dressed in their best navy coats to say goodbye to Daddy.
One clutched a pink stuffed bunny, a comforting bulwark against the waves of grief around her. The littlest, Andrew, soother in mouth, was carried by one of his relatives.
The Garda band struck up a mournful lament as the cortege set off along the picturesque main street which skirts the shore. Blue everywhere. A line of uniforms snaking the length of the village, matched by the guard-of-honour from members of the public on the other side of the road, everyone united by a profound sadness.
Encircled by blue. Walking in step, a band of brothers stayed close to Garda Golden, flanking the hearse protectively in an unspoken declaration of solidarity. He was family. One of them, now and forever. And behind the cortege, a rivulet grew into a silent flowing river of indigo.
It was a State funeral, yet the ceremony never overwhelmed the intimacy and desolate sense of loss. President Higgins, his wife Sabina, the Taoiseach and various ministers and dignitaries were there, but the Requiem Mass was imbued with the presence of the 36-year old "gentle giant" who died in the line of duty in Omeath last Sunday.
Often it's the everyday objects which grip the heart. Among the symbols on the altar were a jersey from his GAA club in his native town of Ballina in Mayo; a framed photo of Tony, surrounded by his beloved wife and children.
Then there were his 'time out' accoutrements: a TV remote control, a can of Coke, a Drifter bar and a packet of crisps.
Chief celebrant Fr Pa gave the eulogy, recounting how one resident of Omeath described him as "our Garda". He added: "To a person among family and colleagues, all are immensely proud of Garda Tony and his selfless nature - proud of everything he lived for, worked for and stood for."
And "proud" was also a word invoked by his heartbroken brother Patrick, who gave a reflection at the end of the Mass. "Some words immediately come to mind, such as hero, gentle giant, family man, caring, rock and idol. These words cannot explain how good a man he was and how much we all love him. I am so proud so stand here and call him my big brother," he said, as outside in the sunshine many gardai bowed their heads and quietly wiped away tears.
There were powerful, poignant words too from Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, who began by noting everyone present or watching was present "to register a heroic death". She added: "But the hero he became in death should not rub from our memories the man he was in life."
She spoke of how "achingly sad" it was that the hopes and dreams of Tony and Nicola would now never unfold and that their three small children would need help in the future to store their painfully few precious memories of the father who loved them so deeply.
"To remember being hefted onto the big shoulders of their Daddy to get the best view, to remember the strong, sure hands of him". Her words were eloquent and emphatic - Garda Tony was family, and would not be forgotten. "We don't forget to remember our own. We bring them with us on our journey, in the stories we tell in the dark interiors of patrol cars, while we're waiting for the kettle to boil in the station, or out on lonely checkpoints. We will tell stories of Tony Golden in the months and years to come," she vowed. "He was a hero protecting a woman and her father. He laid down his life to do what he had sworn to do".
At the breathtaking sight of over 4,000 gardai facing the sea and surrounding their fallen comrade, the word 'hero' seemed utterly fitting.