About 100 mourners, watched on by uniformed and armed gardaí, gathered in Co Louth on Tuesday morning for the funeral service and burial of former Real IRA leader and Omagh bomb suspect Michael McKevitt.
The priest concelebrating the funeral mass said that despite suffering from cancer in his final years McKevitt had found “peace” and was “never in bad form… and never complained”.
The 71-year-old father of six was married to Bernadette Sands McKevitt, a sister of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. McKevitt died on Saturday after being sick with cancer for the past six years.
McKevitt’s remains were taken by hearse from his home at Beech Park, Blackrock, Co Louth, on Tuesday morning to Fursey Church, Haggardstown, Co Louth, for funeral Mass. His remains were buried at the adjoining ceremony after Mass.
There was a noticeable Garda presence around the family home, mainly comprised of uniformed Garda members on foot, while a checkpoint was erected about 1.5km from Blackrock to monitor those making their way to the funeral.
Gardaí also maintained a presence around Fursey Church, including uniformed members of the force and armed personnel. Most of the armed gardaí were on standby in vehicles with a small number of detectives in plain clothes, who were discreetly armed, taking up a position into the cemetery.
Only McKevitt’s immediate family was in attendance in the church for the service, due to Covid-19 restrictions, and the death notice placed by the family made clear such restrictions would apply and that the funeral was a private event.
However, about 100 mourners stood scattered throughout the car park of the church listening to the service on a public address system and later attended at the graveside. Most of those present wore masks or protective face coverings, though the numbers in attendance were not in line with Covid-19 guidelines.
McKevitt’s coffin was draped in the Tricolour and mourners were told he remained a proud republican until his death last Saturday.
McKevitt’s daughter Roisin addressed mourners on behalf of the family and said the man she knew was “a loving husband, devoted father, grandfather, brother, comrade and Irish republican”.
“Dad was an unassuming man, quiet by nature, determined and with a beautiful smile. He enjoyed the simple pleasures in life such as music, reading, gardening. His family meant everything to him and he was immensely proud of us. Dad always encouraged us to be independent thinkers, hard workers.”
She added her father was from a family of “staunch Irish republicans who fought during Ireland’s war of independence.
“Our dad endured many hardships throughout his life with dignity and quite determination; the loss of his beloved father, Michael, when he was 10-years-old and tragically his young wife Majella and baby Karen when he was just 21-years-old.
“Then in 2004 while incarcerated in Portlaoise jail his beloved mother Ellen passed away. Dad held dear the principle of Irish independence, free from British interference. In his own words he said, ‘I have consistently maintained one view throughout my adult life; that the British presence in Ireland, in whatever form, is illegitimate and has been the most significant contributing factor to years of conflict and strife in Ireland.’”
She pointed out among the artefacts gathered for his funeral service were a copy of the proclamation and a photograph of Pádraig Pearse “both of which were very dear to dad”, especially Pearse’s poem Mise Éire.
McKevitt was officially released from prison in March, 2016, after completing a sentence for directing terrorism. He had been temporarily released in late 2015 because he had cancer, though his sentence expired within months.
He and his family denied he had taken any part in the Omagh bomb in August, 1998. A total of 31 people, including unborn twins, who were killed when the Real IRA bomb exploded in the centre of the Co Tyrone town.
McKevitt and three others – Liam Campbell, Colm Murphy and Seamus Daly – were in 2009 found liable for the bombing in a landmark civil trial taken by the relatives of the victims. However, nobody has ever been convicted for the atrocity.
McKevitt’s son, Stephen, addressed the mourners, in prayer, and asked God to grant his father “the peace and rest he so richly deserves”.
The priest who concelebrated the funeral Mass noted the support given to McKevitt through is illness by his family and the medical and palliative care staff. He was also “given much peace” in his final days, including when “receiving the blessed sacrament”.
“Throughout his journey in the last number of years, amidst his illness, I have to acknowledge, as I personally experienced and as others have said, he was never in bad form and… he never complained. I acknowledge the dignity he showed through his illness, he accepted his story.”
He told McKevitt’s family they would have their memories and stories of their husband and father and these would be “cherished” now that “Michael is at peace in the joy of God’s heavenly host”.
Earlier this week, the father of one of the victims of the Omagh bombing said McKevitt had “escaped justice” for his role in the atrocity.
Michael Gallagher, whose son Aidan was among those killed, said it was “horrendous” to think that McKevitt “died in a comfortable bed with his family around him, unlike our families who died in the gutter on the Main Street in Omagh”.