Graveside oration at funeral of Patrick Hillery

Wednesday 16 April 2008 19.31
Brian Cowen - Delivered the oration at St Fintan's Cemetery in Sutton
Brian Cowen - Delivered the oration at St Fintan's Cemetery in Sutton

Oration at the graveside of Dr Patrick J Hillery, former President of Ireland, by the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance and Leader designate of Fianna Fail, Brian Cowen

A  Uachtaráin, a Thaoisigh, a chlann Uí Irighile, agus a chairde go léir.

Táimid bailithe anseo inniu, chun ómós a thabhairt do Phádraig Ó hIrighile agus is ócáid bhrónach í. Nuair a tugadh cuireadh dom óráid adhlactha a thabhairt inniu ghlacas leis go fonnmhar.  Is mór an onóir dom féin é, seasamh anseo agus labhairt faoi Phádraig Ó hIrighile.

Is fiú féachaint siar ar a shaol.  Fuair sé a chuid oideachais sa bhunscoil áitiúl, i Sráid na Cathrach, i gColáiste Charraig an Tobair agus ansin i gColáiste na hOllscoile i mBaile Átha Cliath.  Fuair sé céimeanna onóracha san eolaíocht agus sa leigheas.  Chuaigh sé go Quebec, áit ar dhein sé cúrsa iarchéime.  Bhí an Fhraincis go flúirseach aige.  D'fhill sé ar ais go hÉirinn agus nuair a bhí sé ag obair in ospidéal i mBaile Átha Cliath bhí an t-ádh air, mar bhuail sé le dochtúir óg eile, a chéile ionúin Maedhb.

Thuig Éamonn De Valera go raibh cumas i bPádraig agus d'iarr sé air seasamh leis san Olltoghchán i 1951 agus toghadh iad.  Bhí Pádraig ag obair mar dhochtúir ag baile ag an am.  Nuair a bhí Seán Lemass ina Thaoiseach, ceapadh Pádraig ina Aire Oideachais i 1959.  Ba cheannródaí é.  Bhí grá aige dá theanga dhúchais agus chuir sé tús le scrúdú cainte san Ard-Teistiméireacht.

Thug sé an cló rómhánach isteach agus bhunaigh sé na scoileanna cuimsitheacha agus na coláistí réigiúnacha.  Agus chuir sé tús freisin leis na duaiseanna Gaisce, a thugann aitheantas gach bliain do ghníomhartha gaisce na ngnáth-dhaoine. Mhol sé airgead a chaitheamh ar oideachas agus d'éirigh leis.

Is iomaí éacht atá déanta ag "Doctor Paddy" ar son na tíre seo.  Bhí sé discréideach mar dhochtúir agus mar pholaiteoir.  I ngach aicme dá shaol bhí sé díograiseach.

Tá dhá chuimhne pearsanta agam air, go háirithe.  Bhíos ag breathnú air, i bPáirc an Chrócaigh, sa bhliain 1995 nuair a bhuaigh an Clár ar Uíbh Failí i gcraobh na hÉireann.  Bhí gliondar croí chomh mór sin air gur shil sé deora.  Ba Chláiríneach amach is amach é.  Tá an-tóir anois ar an fhéin-phoiblíocht ach do shéan Pádraig é.

Cuimhním freisin nuair a bhí sé ina Uachtarán thugas cuireadh dó teacht go dtí mo bhaile dhúchais féin, An Clárach.  Ní raibh aon éirí in airde air, agus bhí sé ar a shuaimhneas ag caint le cosmhuintir an bhaile.  Sin tréith a bhí aige.  Ba chuma leis bheith i measc na n-uasal sa tSín nó san Astráil, nó i measc na ngnáth-dhaoine in aon bhaile beag in Éirinn.

Ba dhuine ciúin, séimh, cneasta, cumasach é Pádraig Ó hIrighile agus ba státaire iontach é.

If greatness is judged by the content of character - we stand at the graveside of a great man today.

Paddy Hillery was born in West Clare in the town of Milltown Malbay in 1923.  It is a special place where the sea air mixes with the beauty of the unique west of Ireland nature and countryside.  His family home in Spanish Point and the surrounding environment were the source, the rhythm, of the riches of the man who emerged to play such a central role in Irish public life for almost four decades.

Paddy Hillery was a doctor who became a politician.  The oath he swore on graduating as a medical practitioner served him well also in his long years of public service. It says:

'I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science and that warmth, sympathy and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug.  I will recall that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all my fellow human beings.'

Those words which date back to the 4th century BC, aptly symbolise how Paddy Hillery conducted his life.  His political achievements are the more impressive given the humility with which they were realised.  As a people we are not given to celebrate the exceptional in our midst.  At least not until he or she whom we wish to laud has passed to their eternal reward. 

Paddy Hillery was one such exceptional figure in Irish life.  He sculpted his political career quietly but no less effectively for that.  Each impression that he carved was rooted in meeting in full, his obligations to all his fellow citizens. 

The Ireland Paddy Hillery leaves behind is a peaceful, highly educated, confident Republic, that has taken its place as a strong and respected member of modern Europe.  That is his legacy.

Over his 39 years of unbroken service to his country he was a TD, a reforming government minister, Ireland's first European Commissioner and he served two terms as Uachtarán na hÉireann.  Throughout, his passion was singular - Ireland.  His resolve was simple - to advance the cause of its people.

He entered politics at the age of 28 when he successfully stood for Fianna Fail in the 1951 general election with Eamonn de Valera.  He was a republican. His father, Dr Michael Hillery, had served as a medical officer to the IRA during the War of Independence. 

His first ministerial office came in 1959.  Seán Lemass appointed him as Minister for Education.  It was an inspired decision which would greatly benefit future generations of children in Ireland. Inherited privilege characterised the Irish education system at that time. 

Paddy Hillery was committed to a radical expansion in participation at every level of education.  He set about making the entitlement to a good education, not the privilege of a few, but the destiny of the many.
 
To him, cherishing the children of the nation meant offering all our citizens the chance to participate fully in the social and economic life of our country.  He saw a high quality, equality of opportunity education system, as vital to a modern republic.  In March 1960, he famously told the Dail: 

"Every child of sufficient talent, be they poor or rich, in any type of school should have the opportunity of climbing right to the top of the educational ladder. The nation needs the services of all the talent it can find."

It was Paddy Hillery who laid the foundations of the comprehensive school system, expanded vocational training, and helped to establish the Commission on Higher Education. His work paved the way for the introduction of free second level education by his successor, Donough O'Malley, and the development of the third level education sector in Ireland.

Paddy's radical reforms were to expand the range and quality of opportunity available to our young people ever since.  This is the very bedrock of the successful confident European nation which Ireland has become today.

Ireland is not just a successful nation.  It is also a peaceful place now. Much has been made - and rightly so - of the achievements of the last decade and more, in realising this transformation.  What must be remembered though, is that the despair that we experienced through the seventies, eighties and much of the nineties, could have been unimaginably worse. 

At the very start of Northern Ireland's descent into darkness, Paddy Hillery was our Minister for Foreign Affairs.   His support for the embattled nationalist community was unflinching.  So too was his support for our constitution.  At that most delicate point, he played a critical role in defending constitutional Republicanism. 

He believed that Fianna Fail's mission was to achieve Republican objectives solely by peaceful means.  For him there could never be any question about the commitment of this party to a truly Irish based constitutional democracy.

Those who lived through that period know just how profound an influence he was.  Ireland and my party, Fianna Fail, owe him a huge debt for the manner in which he stood four square behind the leadership, behind the Constitution, and what it represented for a still young Republic.

As well as being to the forefront in defending our constitutional republicanism, Paddy Hillery brought us into the emerging European Union of nation states.

As Minister he negotiated our entry into the then European Economic Community.  Later, as our first European Commissioner he was, again, a reformer. 

As Commissioner for Social Affairs, the Directive on Equal Pay will forever stand as a monument to his political skill and determination.  It also reflected his innate sense of fairness and justice and his commitment to those strong Republican ideals that he carried with him into the European political arena.

His other great achievements in Europe included the introduction of improvements for migrant and disabled workers, the establishment of a combat poverty programme and the development of the European Social Fund. Ireland was a major beneficiary for years following these far-seeing initiatives. It reinforced the earlier commitment he had made as Ireland's first Cabinet Minister for Labour to the up-skilling of workers.

At home and in Europe, as an office holder, Paddy Hillery was an innovator, a pioneer, a risk taker and at all times a consummate professional.

His own interpretation or assessment would have been more prosaic - more rooted in the man, his upbringing and his training. Paddy Hillery saw politics as a calling.  As with his medical vocation, he saw the engagement in political action as having only one objective - to better the lot of the people - all of the people.  In government in Ireland and as a European Commissioner that was what he did - he served the people.

Service too was the hallmark of his two terms as President of Ireland.  His time in Áras an Uachtaráin was calm and dignified.  It was also effective.  And engaging.   He once described his time in the Presidency as "a wonderful enlightening adventure." 

He had seen his Presidency as an opportunity to bring stability to the office and to continue his predecessors' contact with the citizens of Ireland.  He and Maeve visited communities all over the country.  They met the people, talked with them, laughed with them. He was in touch with his people in that understated, relaxed and informal manner that characterised Paddy's genial personality.  Little has been written of this aspect to his - to their - Presidency.  But it was there, and it was real, as many people the length and breadth of the country well know.

The people of Clare, in particular, loved and admired Paddy Hillery.  He was one of them.  At first, he tended to their medical needs as his father and grandfather had done before him.  He then represented them admirably throughout his 21 years as their TD. And of course, he was the second man to represent Clare, who became our President.
A humble man of simple tastes, he has been variously described as honourable, decent, intelligent, courteous, warm and engaging. He was all of those things and more.

Paddy Hillery retired from public life in 1990.  His exit from public life in many ways reflected his entry - no unnecessary fanfare, pomp or ceremony.  In leaving public office, he was, in a way, returned to his family - a family that sacrificed much in order that we could benefit. 

It is wonderful that he was blessed in retirement with an active and full life which Maeve will remember so fondly now. He was a good sportsman. He was an excellent swimmer and golfer. And all of us here, have in our mind's eye, the image of him sailing around Spanish Point heading for the Aran Islands wearing his familiar cap firmly set against the Atlantic breeze. His love of golf and art and music, and the sound of the 'clash of the ash' on Munster Championship day, would take the place of politics. He was never more at ease than playing 18 holes in Portmarnock or his beloved Lahinch and there are few courses that claimed his golf ball. 

He was part of a generation of Irish politicians who sowed the seeds of our current prosperity.  He was the last surviving member of Sean Lemass's first cabinet.  Paddy Hillery would not crave statues or monuments to his legacy.  Knowing that in some way he helped to shape our modern, confident and ambitious society, was acclaim enough for a man who never lost touch. 

Last week, when speaking about the party he loved, I quoted Sean Lemass's interpretation of Irish patriotism:

"Patriotism, as I understand it, is a combination of love of country, pride in its history, traditions and culture, and a determination to add to its prestige and achievements."

On that basis Dr. Patrick Hillery was, undoubtedly, a patriot.  A man, who shied away from rhetoric but chose action.  For those of us engaged in political life, his career of service is a model for us to follow and hope to replicate. 

To honour Paddy Hillery's political legacy, we should use his life of service and of dedication, to challenge all of us in the conduct of ours. 

This afternoon, our thoughts and sympathies go out to those who loved Paddy most.  Maeve, who was forever by his side, was selfless in support of her husband, first in Paddy's party political life and later as a representative of this State during his two terms as President of Ireland.  They shared a love of medicine, but more importantly a love of their family. 

Our condolences also go to their son, John, who continues the wonderful medical contribution of the Hillery family. And, of course, to John's wife, Carolyn, and to Paddy's four grandchildren - Sarah Jane, Patrick, Michael and David. They know they were a source of constant joy to him. 

Today, we are laying Paddy to rest beside their beloved daughter, Vivienne, who died at the tender age of 17 in 1987.  They have borne that loss with great faith, fortitude and dignity.  Paddy's wish was to be laid to rest alongside Vivienne in her final resting place here in Sutton.

Dr Patrick Hillery embodied all that is noble and good in a man, a doctor, a politician and public servant.  He attained the highest public office and yet never sought promotion or self-advancement.  His innate sense of decency and genuine humility defined the man.  His kindness and graciousness were a constant. 

The Hippocratic Oath Dr. Hillery swore before commencing in medical practice concludes with the words:

"If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter"

Paddy Hillery was a proud son of Clare. 

Paddy Hillery was a true son of Ireland. 

He will long be remembered with the greatest of respect and with the deepest of affection.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal.