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President Higgins among mourners at funeral of former Ceann Comhairle Seamus Pattison

By Conor Kane

President Michael D Higgins was among the mourners at the funeral Mass for former Ceann Comhairle and 46-year veteran of the Dáil Seamus Pattison who was buried in his native Kilkenny this afternoon.

Hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects to the former Labour politician who was a member of Dáil Eireann from 1961 until his retirement in 2007, by which time he was one of the longest-serving parliamentarians in Europe. He died on Sunday at the age of 81 following a long illness.

As well as President Higgins, the congregation at the Mass in St Patrick’s Church in Kilkenny city, not far from the late Mr Pattison’s home, included Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin, former leaders Joan Burton, Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte, and colleagues from all parties.

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, was represented by his aide de camp Cmdt Caroline Burke.

The eulogy was delivered by Brendan Howlin who spoke of Seamus Pattison’s early days as a trade union activist, and also of his 46 years in the Dáil which included a term as Ceann Comhairle, four years as minister of state and a term as Leas Ceann Comhairle.

The funeral of former Ceann Comhairle Seamus Pattison at St Patricks Church in Kilkenny. Pic: Dylan Vaughan.

“In all areas of his life, Seamus had a genuine and sincere interest in helping people,” Mr Howlin said. “He was there to do whatever he could for them, irrespective of their political creed. He never made anyone feel as if they were outside or different.”

He had a “unique insight” into parliamentary democracy in Ireland, given his 46 years in the Dáil, and served with TDs from the first Dáil to the 30th Dáil. There is a photograph in Leinster House, Mr Howlin said, taken on June 28 of 1963, of the 169 members of the Dáil. They are all looking at their visitor on that day, President John F Kennedy, and the only one who was still a member of the house by 2007 was Seamus Pattison.

Illness took its toll on him and Mr Howlin recalled his last meeting with Seamus, who was then in a wheelchair. He leaned over and whispered into the Labour Party leader’s ear, “if you need me to stand, I’ll win again”.

Others present at the funeral were current Carlow-Kilkenny TDs John McGuinness, Pat Deering, and Kathleen Funchion, former MEP Liam Aylward, Jack O’Connor of SIPTU, Alan Kelly TD, Willie Penrose TD, Senator Jed Nash, former TDs Brian O’Shea, Ann Phelan, Emmet Stagg, Tom Hayes, former senator Michael Lanigan, cathaoirleach of Kilkenny County Council David Fitzpatrick, mayor of Kilkenny city Michael Doyle, and current and former councillors.

Seamus Pattison was also a three-time mayor of Kilkenny and sat in the European Parliament from 1981 to 1983. He was made a Freeman of Kilkenny city in 2008. He is survived by his brothers Monsignor Francis who is in San Diego, Joe and Michael, sisters-in-law and other relatives and friends.

Chief celebrant among 12 priests at the funeral was Fr Willie Purcell who said Seamus was a man with a long and distinguished CV, who met kings, queens, presidents and popes and travelled the world through his work, but for whom family always came first. His religion was also important to him: “He said to me his faith was his strength and prayers were his armour and, in politics, you need a lot of armour.”

All of the important people he met throughout his long career were “no different to you and me,” Seamus said. “A good man has passed our way and we have been truly blessed to have known him.”

Afterwards, the cortege made its way to Foulkstown Cemetery outside Kilkenny where Seamus Pattison was laid to rest.