John Bruton remembered as humbling and unassuming ‘decent man’ at state funeral

Former Irish premier John Bruton has been described as a “humbling and unassuming” man at his state funeral attended by senior political figures including President Michael D Higgins and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

Ministers, TDs and parliamentary ushers were among those who attended the service at Saints Peter and Paul’s Church in Mr Bruton’s hometown of Dunboyne, Co Meath.

Former taoisigh Enda Kenny, Brian Cowen and Bertie Ahern, Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly were among those in attendance to remember the man who served as taoiseach in the mid-1990s.

Enda Kenny (right) arrives for the funeral in Dunboyne
Enda Kenny (right) arrives for the funeral in Dunboyne (Brian Lawless/PA)

A small crowd gathered at a big screen outside the church to watch the funeral.

Full state funeral honours were accorded to Mr Bruton, with Irish soldiers carrying his coffin out of the church before it was carried on a gun carriage to Rooske Cemetery where full military honours will be given at the graveside.

Soldiers dressed Mr Bruton’s coffin at the family home ahead of the removal mass on Friday.

Mr Bruton was taoiseach of the “rainbow coalition” government between 1994 and 1997, overseeing a referendum that would legalise divorce in Ireland and contributing to the Northern Ireland peace process through the launch of the Anglo-Irish Framework document.

He died on Tuesday aged 76 surrounded by his family in hospital after a long illness.

He is survived by his wife Finola, his children Matthew, Juliana, Emily and Mary-Elizabeth, and his grandchildren and his younger brother, former government minister Richard Bruton, who read a prayer of the faithful during the funeral.

John Bruton funeral
First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald and deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly speak to Mr Kenny (Brian Lawless/PA)

Their sister Mary Bruton spoke to thank friends for their kindness during the family’s grief.

In the homily, Father Bruce Bradley described Mr Bruton as “an exceptionally good man”.

“John was honest and honourable, patient and persevering, courageous and committed, ‘willing to lead even when it meant going against the grain’, as the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said, humble and unassuming, a man of integrity and truth.”

Mr Bruton’s daughters Emily Bruton Iniekio read the poem Death Is Nothing at All by Henry Scott Holland, while her sister Mary-Elizabeth Bruton gave the second reading.

John Bruton funeral
President Michael D Higgins arrives for the state funeral (Brian Lawless/PA)

Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan said Saints Peter and Paul’s Church had been important to Mr Bruton, and they had met at Sunday masses.

“Faith was important to him and the Christian ideal,” Bishop Deenihan said, adding that aspects of the late taoiseach’s religious beliefs “informed his political thinking”.

“He was not, and rightly so, an advocate of a theocracy but was, in the best sense of the term, a Christian democrat.

“The Christian principles of co-operation, dialogue, equity and respect – central to the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount – are also evidenced in his work in relation to Northern Ireland and Europe.”

The bishop said the praise given to Mr Bruton since his death that he was “a decent man” is “the supreme accolade in rural Ireland”.

Several senior political figures were seen conversing in the aftermath of the funeral mass, including Mr Ahern speaking with the former NI deputy first minister Mark Durkan, and Ms Little-Pengelly expressing her condolences to Mr Bruton’s widow, Finola.

Ukrainian ambassador Larysa Gerasko and US ambassador Claire Cronin were also in attendance at the funeral.