Homily by Cardinal Daly at State Funeral for Kevin Barry and Comrades

14 Oct 2001

Homily by Cardinal Cahal B Daly at State Funeral for Kevin Barry and Comrades

Cardinal Connell was to have celebrated this Mass and preached the homily. Unfortunately, he is detained in Rome, where he is participating in the Synod of Bishops with Archbishop Brady. Being unable to be with us today, he invited me to preside in his stead, and I gladly accepted. Cardinal Connell sends his sincere regrets.

The names of the 10 whom we reinter today are famed in ballad, in song and in story: Kevin Barry of Dublin and Carlow, Thomas Whelan of Clifden, Patrick Moran of Crossna, County Roscommon, Patrick Doyle of Dublin, Bernard Ryan of Dublin, Frank Flood of Dublin, Thomas Bryan of Dublin, Thomas Traynor of Tullow, Co. Carlow, Edmond Foley and his half- brother Patrick Maher, both of Galbally, Co. Limerick. “Kevin Barry, just a lad of 18 summers”, and nine other young men in their 20’s and 30’s, are today, eighty years after their deaths, being given the honours of a State Funeral. Above all, they are today receiving the dignity of a Christian burial.

In this Mass, we commend their souls to God and we commit their bodily remains to consecrated earth, in which they will await the resurrection. We do not forget that young men died also on the British side; and we commend their souls to God also.

We think today of the fathers of the young men we reinter; we think of their mothers who, as Padraig Pearse said, suffered “in their coming and in their going”. We think of their families, their relatives, neighbours and neighbourhoods. These men died in the belief that their deaths would bring into being an independent Ireland, an Ireland of freedom, of justice, an island in which people would never again resort to violent means in order to secure human rights and equal opportunities for all its citizens.


All three readings in our Mass today speak of life, not death; or rather, they speak of life beyond death.:

“The Lord will destroy death forever”. (Isaiah 25:8)
“In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever”. (Psalm 22:6)
“As all men and women die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.
…..The last of the enemies to be destroyed is death”. (1 Corinthians 15:22,26)
“It is the Father’s will that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life”. (John 6:40)

The second reading speaks of God’s Kingdom, which Jesus Christ is in the end to hand over to the Father. (1 Corinthians 15:24) The life that Jesus speaks about is eternal life, the life that he himself shares with God, His Father, and which he wishes us to share with him for ever. The Kingdom that Jesus speaks of is a Kingdom “not of this world”. (cfr. John 18:36). But it is a Kingdom which we, the followers of Jesus, have the duty to prepare for in this world, by striving to bring the world around us, and especially in our own country, into harmony with the truths and the values of that Kingdom. Jesus Christ asks us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice”, and this means doing justice to God and doing justice to our fellow human beings. We cannot do justice to God in heaven unless we do justice here on earth.

The eternal life which we are to share with God in heaven must be prepared for already in our life here on earth. It must be reflected in our respect for the life and the rights of others. God has made us, each one of us, in His own image and likeness; and our call as Christians is to see the image of God in others, no matter how attractive or unattractive their human features might look to our eyes. If Jesus Christ, who is the living image and likeness of God, stamps his own image on each human being, then one must see each human being, at whatever stage of life, tiny and vulnerable in the womb, fragile and beautiful in babyhood, lovely and vibrant in youth or perhaps deformed and disabled, or in old age worn and wrinkled, we must see each one as reflecting something of the many-fold loveliness and loveableness and wonder of God.

That is why we must treat all human life as sacred, holy, sacrosanct, inviolable.

Hopkins puts it memorably in his lines:

“Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his,
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

It is significant that this is the Sunday set aside by the Irish Catholic Bishops as a Day for Life. The Pope asked that such a day be observed all over the Catholic world. The purpose of it is to reaffirm the right to life and dignity of every human being, from conception to natural death; to renew the Church’s commitment to the defence of the poor of the world; to appeal to every person, in the name of God, to respect and protect, love and serve life, every human life; and to ask people to reflect on the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless.

All this was, at least implicitly, part of the ideal Ireland for which Kevin Barry and his comrades gave their young lives. But the whole context in which they waged their armed struggle has been irreversibly changed by the appalling massacre in Manhattan on 11 September last, and by the new understandings of freedom and of unity in Ireland which experience has taught us in the eighty years since 1920.


Many will be laying claim to be the legitimate and only heirs of the men we reinter today. Some groups will claim that they and they only are the inheritors of their ideals. Some will claim that the mantle has passed to them of being the men and women whose duty it is to complete the unfinished business of 1916. For there was unfinished business and there still is.

I want to refer to two areas of unfinished business: namely social justice in both parts of Ireland and the peace process in Northern Ireland. Let me speak first of social justice. Freedom was the all-absorbing national aim in 1916 and the following years. But it was not intended to be an end in itself. It was freedom for the sake of justice. The foundation documents of the State, from the Easter Proclamation to the Democratic Programme of the first Dail Eireann, make this clear. The Proclamation of the Republic guaranteed “equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens”, and undertook to “cherish all the children of the nation equally”.

The Democratic Programme adopted unanimously by the first Dail, at its first meeting on 21 January 1919, affirmed “that all rights to private property must be subordinated to public right and welfare”. The Programme declared “in the name of the Republic, the right of every citizen to an adequate share of the produce of the nation’s labour”. The Programme affirmed it “as the first duty of the Government of the Republic … to make provision for the physical and mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food or clothing or shelter”. The Programme promised “care of the nation’s aged and infirm, who shall no longer be regarded as a burden, but rather entitled to the nation’s gratitude and consideration”.

Padraig de Brun wrote in 1916 of the men who died for those ideals:

“A firing party and a bed of lime were all that fortune gave them in return,
and only with faith’s ear could they discern
the songs of freedom in the coming time”

Eighty years and a Celtic Tiger later we are still very far from having turned the noble rhetoric into reality, or translated the songs of freedom into life experience for our poor and their children, our aged, our homeless, our refugees; or into equality of opportunity for dwellers West of the Shannon or West of the Bann, or for people in sectors of urban blight, whether in Dublin or Cork, in Belfast or Derry.

There is still a vast accumulation of unfinished business to be done. All political parties have had their opportunities to tackle it in the Republic. It is not a question of apportioning blame; all politicians and all citizens share whatever blame is to be apportioned.

Thirty years ago, in 1971, Pope Paul VI pointedly said: “It is not enough to point to crying injustices and utter prophetic denunciations. It is too easy to throw back on others responsibilities for injustice if at the same time one does not realise how each one shares in it personally.”

We preachers must apply these words first to ourselves and not solely to those to whom we preach. The “unfinished business” is a moral concern for each citizen.


Let me speak now about the peace process in Northern Ireland. A new vision for Ireland was sketched in the Good Friday Agreement. This was endorsed by the people in a country-wide referendum, in which, for the first time since 1918, the inhabitants of the whole island voted. By a very large majority, people North and South subscribed to a new understanding about what freedom and unity mean in today’s Ireland, an understanding which, for the very first time, secured the assent of North and South, nationalist and unionist inhabitants of the island together. The Agreement is not just visionary; it is founded on a penetrating analysis of the realities which constitute Northern Ireland. There is no other basis on which Northern Ireland can enjoy peace, prosperity and normal life.

Let me avail of this opportunity to say that we in Northern Ireland owe a deep debt of gratitude to the successive governments in Dublin and to their officials for their hard and patient work in the protracted negotiations which eventually culminated in the drawing up of the Good Friday Agreement and in its implementation.

Nationalists now no longer see Irish unity as absorption of a unionist minority into a united Ireland by virtue of an all-island nationalist majority. That crude majoritarian concept of democracy has been relegated to the past; it did not work in Northern Ireland; it will not work in reverse in a unified Ireland. Unionists too have rights. Unionists too have legitimacy in this island. Democracy demands that their rights, and their identity be respected. The Irish majority neither wishes to nor could absorb into itself an unreconciled, unwilling and recalcitrant unionist community. No-one should wish to see the negative aspects of Northern Ireland’s past repeated in an all-Ireland context. As Cardinal Conway memorably asked, at the very beginning of the Northern ‘Troubles’; thirty years ago: “Who in their sober senses would want to bomb a million Protestants into a United Ireland.”

A United Ireland remains a legitimate and a noble ideal. But the people of this island have repudiated physical force or coercion as a means to attain it. It can be attained only by persuasion, not by force; only by consent, not by constraint; only by creating conditions and building relationships which make its attainment no longer repellent for unionists but acceptable and even attractive for them. Reunification is now seen as inseparably linked with two balancing concepts, namely, Unionist consent in the future, and a genuinely new Northern Ireland of equality and partnership in the present.

Indeed, the possibilities of an agreed United Ireland in the future are actually being tested now by the willingness of both political communities to create together in equal partnership an agreed Northern Ireland in the present.

The true inheritors today of the ideals of the men and women of 1916 to 1922 are those who are explicitly and visibly committed to leaving the physical force tradition behind, and who are committed to implementing all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. This means being prepared to work for a reconciled Northern Ireland of equality between traditions and justice for all; a Northern Ireland freed from the scandal of sectarianism, at peace within its borders but in structured partnership with its neighbours south of its borders; a Northern Ireland where the allegiance of its unionist inhabitants to their British identity and of its nationalist inhabitants to their Irish identity are freely and fully respected.

This vision also postulates friendly and equal relationships between Ireland and Britain, so that one of Europe’s oldest enmities may at last be healed. G.K. Chesterton, a friend of Irish nationalism at a time when Ireland had few friends in England, wrote: “Two lands so much loved by those who know them best, are not meant to hate each other for ever”.


A once-popular Irish folk song asked: “Oh Ireland what happened to the promise and the dream?” That is a question for each of us to ponder today. Surely this State funeral can be an occasion for examination of conscience about the ideals of the men who died and about our responsibility for translating those ideals into today’s realities. The true inheritors of the men and women of 1916 are those who struggle for justice and human rights and equality for all sections in society.

The only legitimate struggle in Northern Ireland has been and is an unarmed struggle for justice, equality and human rights for both of its political traditions; and for peace and reconciliation and co-operation between them. There must be readiness to accept shared blame and pain as well as shared gain from the Northern peace process. There must be mutuality of esteem between both parts of Ireland and cooperation between them for the benefit of both. Those who try to be guided by these ideals can draw inspiration and strength from the Gospel of Jesus Christ in doing so.

They too can be said to be “not far from the Kingdom of God”. As we commend these ten to God’s merciful care we could take inspiration from a poem of the time by Lady Gregory, called “The Old Woman Remembers”. The old woman “on the beads (tells) out names and lights a candle for the dead”. She then lights seven candles in succession as a “rosary of praise for some whose names are sung or said”. After lighting the seventh candle she says:

“Yet who forgives shall be forgiven. It’s likely in the Shining Land
when near the Company of Heaven the wondering shadow-armies stand,
the barren shadow-weapons fall the bitter battle-angers cease;
So may God give to them and all The blessing of His lasting peace”.

As we light our altar candles for the dead and offer this holy Mass for their souls, we pray: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in everlasting peace.