THE lonesome, aching sound of the uileann pipes quivered in the air as the remains of the last Knight of Glin were brought from his home in Glin Castle to the Church of the Immaculate Conception for last Sundayâ€™s funeral service.
But in an eloquent and moving gesture, the coffin was borne â€“ not in a hearse â€“ but on the back of a simple horse-drawn cart decked about with greenery and driven by a friend of long-standing. The cartâ€™s bright red paint stook stark against the dark colours of the pall-bearers.
The evening before, the Knight, who died on September 14 following a long illness at age 74, was waked at his home where hundreds called to pay their respects to the man who, for so long, had been part of their community.
Inside the church on Sunday were scores of the many distinguished people the 29th Knight of Glin had befriended during his life â€“ but also hundreds of his neighbours from Glin.
â€œI have no doubt everyone present has some memory of Desmond to whom we bid farewell today,â€ the Venerable Robert Warren, Archdeacon of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe said to the congregation which had been welcomed to the church by Fr Tom Crawford, PP Glin. â€œWe are here because we share in your sorrow â€“ we acknowledge your grief is sharpest because your love for Desmond was the strongest.â€
But, he said, they were also there to give thanks for a full and distinguished life, well-lived. The Knightâ€™s work had brought about an understanding and appreciation that much of our art and architecture, which might well have been perceived as belonging to another culture, was really intertwined very closely with Irish heritage and Irish history, the Archdeacon continued. â€œI think that is a very important legacy that Desmond has left.â€
He described the Knight as someone who could distinguish between the value and the worth of things, a busy man always in a hurry to his next project, a man who loved his work and found his vocation in life.
Poems, including â€œLament for Kilcashâ€ were read by the Knightâ€™s daughters, Honor and Catherine and by Catherineâ€™s husband, the actor Dominic West while local musicians, led by Diarmuid Oâ€™Brien on fiddle played â€œThe Humours of Glinâ€, a tune by another Glin man, the late Martin Mulvihill.
Trinity College art history Prof Dr Edward McParland described his friend, Desmond Fitzgerald, whom he first met in the 1960s, as one of the most remarkable people he had known. â€œEverything in his life centred on Glin and on his life here,â€ he continued. â€œIt was from Glin that radiated out those passionate commitments that embraced the whole of Ireland. For this most cosmopolitan man, Ireland was the centre of the world and Glin was the centre of Ireland.â€
Dr McParland described the Knight as a patriot â€“ but drew laughter when he said: â€œHe wasnâ€™t, I am glad to say, the easiest man in the world to please.â€ Whether it was curtains, a painting or a Denny Bible, if he didnâ€™t like it, he told you, the professor said.
What pleased Desmond inordinately, he went on, was any genuine interest in Irish families, gardens, books, pictures, sculpture, architecture. His memory was prodigious. â€œHe remembered everything. He remembered every-thing he had seen. He shared everything he remembered. His filing cabinet was open to all. â€œ
â€œDesmond was a truly scholarly Knightâ€, Dr McParland said, referring to his happy collaboration with so many scholars and his â€œutterly original research into Irish artâ€.
â€œWhat are we going to do without him â€“ without this persistent, cosmopolitan, volatile, hospitable, generous, fearless, party-going man, this sweet, good, funny, wonderful guy in Oldaâ€™s words? We are all bereaved. We donâ€™t know yet the extent of our loss.
â€œI am not going to say may he rest in peace. He never rested when he was alive. I think he would hate the notion of heavenly rest. He will be forever energetically alive in our memory. Long live the Fitzgerald House of Glin. Shanid abu.â€ Following the service, piper Ronan Browne, led the funeral cortege to the private, family burial in the Knightsâ€™ plot in nearby St Paulâ€™s graveyard. The mourners were led by the Knightâ€™s widow, Olda, his daughters Catherine, Nesta and Honor, son-in-law Dominic West and his grandchildren.
Also present were the Countess of Dunraven and her daughter Lady Ana, the Hon Garech Browne, Lord and Lady Waterford, the Earl and Countess of Rosse. Col Mick McMahon represented the president and Capt Ian Oâ€™Brien, the Taoiseach. Also there was Minister for the Arts, Jimmy Deenihan.