The funeral cortege of Lt Gen Gerry McMahon in Newbridge
PRESIDENT of Ireland Michael D Higgins was among the mourners as former chief of staff of the Irish Army Lt. General Gerry McMahon was given a fond farewell at Cill Mhuire Church, Ballymany, Newbridge.
The Limerick-born retired chief of staff of the Irish Army died over the weekend at the Blackrock Clinic surrounded by his family and his funeral took place in Kildare this Tuesday.
Parish priest, Fr Paul Dempsey, the lead concelebrant, told the gathering about Gerry’s life in Limerick, Kildare and elsewhere, of his Christian faith and how he would regularly walk to Cill Mhuire from his Newbridge home at Moorefield Drive for mass.
Born in Limerick to Alphonsus and Lilly McMahon, Gerry grew up in Cathedral Villas in the shadow of St Johns Cathedral.
He was a pupil at Sexton Street CBS after which he entered the Army and trained at the Curragh Camp, Kildare.
He held various posts in the Army in the Congo, Lebanon and UN in New York before being appointed Chief of Staff in the mid-nineties.
He was a member of Young Munster RFC and even though he lived in Newbridge he regularly travelled to his native city to watch Young Munster compete in the AIL. He was also a keen supporter of Munster despite living in Leinster since his early 20s. He was also a former president of Army RFC.
At a celebration graced by the marvellous voice and music of Newbridge man, Owen C Lynch, which included the Limerick anthem, There is an Isle, The Flower Song from Carmen and The Beatles' Yesterday, Fr Dempsey oversaw the introduction of the flag of Young Munster RFC and a Young Munster jersey, among other items, to the altar.
He welcomed everyone, including Gerry’s wife, Ann - they were married 57 years years ago last Wednesday - and family members - some from Russia - sons Garret, Aengus and Félim, daughters-in-law Linda and Clodagh, sister Mona, grandchildren Áine and Ruarí, President Michael D Higgins, the Minister for Defence, Paul Keogh, and many representatives of the Defence Forces.
Gerry, who passed away last Friday, January 19, was “a man of deep faith,” said Fr Paul.
He had been educated by the Christian Brothers and after the Leaving Cert he applied to a number of locations for work, including Shannon, the ESB, CIE, the Civil Service, the Gardai and the army. The army responded first. His father, Alphonsus, told him: “Go ahead. It is a good job with a pension.”
In 1953 he began his Cadetship. He served with the 37th in the Congo, the 21st in Cyprus, the 44th in Lebanon. He spent two years as an observer with the UN in the Middle East and served in New York with the United Nations. This “vast service” led to him becoming Chief of Staff in 1995.
The late Lt. General Gerry McMahon
Fr Paul said that for Gerry it was a great honour to serve and work for peace, in a job in which there was a lot of travel involved.
“To his family he was simply Dad,” he added.
Ann, he said, gives thanks for the many blessings over the years.
Gerry was always an advocate for peace. He had passion for justice, for all the people in his care, wherever he was sent. He was immersed in many situations where persecution was taking place. He was aware of the dignity of every life.
Fr Paul said that Gerry had faced hardship and danger in his life and work. He had a glittering career but he was a profoundly humble man. It was about service, not about him, Fr Paul told the congregation.
“For him it was a great honour to serve his country and the cause of peace,” said Fr Paul. He wanted his funeral to be low key, not a big State occasion.
The mourners heard it had been a difficult time for the family since Gerry’s illness last October.
Fr Paul said the Glenstal Book of Prayer (2001) was a favourite book, including a line from St Basil of Caesarea: “Steer the ship of my life, Lord, to your quiet harbor, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger in your name we shall find comfort and peace.”
A great hobby of his was hill walking, heading off on his own into the Wicklow mountains.
“Gerry always set out to do a great deal of good,” he said.
Aengus, Gerry’s middle son, thanked everyone for coming. He said they were humbled by people, including former comrades who travelled for the funeral and by the kindness of people.
His father, he said, would not relish any glorification. Aengus said that family, service, loyalty, dedication and determination marked him out. He would offer help or advice.
Aengus said that despite illness in recent times his father blogged from bed to highlight welfare issues in the Defence Forces. “He was always willing to confront injustice.”
Aengus said: “Until the very end he refused to give in to his failing health.” Family was incredibly important to him and his children were his single proudest achievement, he had told them.
He liked horse racing and after studying the form during the morning, he made sure the bets were placed at the Tote on the racing course visits.
He loved his grandchildren, Aine and Ruari, and spent a lot of time with them. Whenever they came to visit their grandparents, a full itinerary was waiting on their bed for the day ahead. “Always keep your eyes on your feet when running over broken ground,” he advised his grandchildren.
Aengus said he took enormous pride is showing them the heritage and history of Limerick, the Cathedral, St. John’s, the city walls, the Shannon and O’Mahony’s, which he considered the best book shop in the world.
He said his dad loved his city and the people were more important than the buildings. He had a “deep deep pride” in Limerick.
“My father loved all sport, Limerick in League of Ireland, but rugby held the most special place,” said Aengus.
“As a child, I watched Curragh RFC and my first sporting hero was John Courtney.”
The gathering heard of Gerry’s love for Young Munster and his pleasure in watching Munster at Thomond Park. Aengus said he preferred the noise and wit of people attending the match, not the manufactured noise in the grounds.
“My father believed that life was about something bigger than himself. The collective group was always more important than the individual story.”
Aengus left us with Gerry’s thoughts from George Bernard Shaw, which he said summed up his father philosphy of life incredibly well.
Shaw said: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
"I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no 'brief candle' for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
The funeral later took place to Newlands Cross Crematorium.