The following is the graveside oration given by former Minister Michael Smith at the funeral of his former Fianna Fail colleague Noel Davern TD, who was also a Junior Minister.
Mr Davern died last week and was laid to rest in his native soil in Powerstown.
“I am privileged and humbled to be asked to give the graveside oration for my great friend Noel Davern. Let me say how grateful I am to the Davern family for giving me this signal honour. As we stand beside his graveside it is only right that we should relive some of the aspects of Noel’s life and recall his many ambitions and feats. How he lightened the burdens of life for so many with his good humour and problem solving ability” (end of peace in Irish).
“The Daverns hailed from the heart of Tipperary, Cashel, the ancient capital of Munster. Noels father Mick like my own father belonged to that first generation of the great Fianna Fail party. They were heirs to an even older republican tradition were the people are seemed to be sovereign and not be ruled by some narrow elite. Tipperarry was at the heart of the struggle against the landlords during the great famine and again in the land league. Cashel and Tipperary was at the heart of the later struggle for political independence. Noel Davern had all that tradition running in his blood and imbedded in his bones. Like his father Mick and his brother Don who died all to young and is buried in the Rock of Cashel, Noel always stood for and with the people in their struggles and difficulties. He was elected to the Dail in 1969 the same year as myself and until 2007 gave sterling service to his County and his Country. He belonged to a turbulent era of great achievement and not a little disappointments. He served in the Lynch era which built on the Lemass Heritage and served as a cabinet Minister under Charles Haughey, and Minister of State under Bertie Ahearn. He was one of the first directly elected to Europe and served five years there. In later years maybe Fianna Fail lost it’s way a little, and maybe lost some of its ancient touch with the people, but Noel Davern never did. He saw himself as belonging to a great and dedicated political party which sought to serve and enhance the lives of all the people.
Noel was a peoples person. A politician who was friendly and affable. He had an infectious nature which attracted people to him. His story telling ability and his unique sense of humour made him a social magnet drawing interest and support from all political persuasion and none. He had a flashing wit with a razor edge at times, which endeared him to many but created mild suffering for not a few. He possessed fabulous memory for names and places and could call countless people by their first names. He possessed a wonderful lasting rapport with people and liked nothing better that a bit of gaiety and sing song. There are endless stories of his fun and good humour, often lightening the most serious debate with a remark that helped put people at ease. Problems that were insignificant to some or not important to elements of the media, were real for Noel, because he understood that they were huge problems to the individual involved and he wanted them solved. No issue was to small to Noel, he had a hands on approach and never forgot his roots. He was in constant touch with his constituents while in the Dail so that every little problem could be tackled and solved. He was a great Rural TD and loved meeting the people in the small pubs throughout South Tipperary. It may have been returning from one of these when he was stopped on the road by a Garda who told him he was not wearing a seatbelt. Noel explained that since his accident he found the seatbelt too painful. To which the Garda promptly replied “I suppose you take a drink to kill the pain also”. On another occasion after a Cumann meeting Noel joined a group of Fianna Fail members in Bretts Pub in Mullinahone. They were drinking after hours when a rather shaken Edgy hurried in to say that the new sergeant was out in the bar. Noel said “that will be alright I’ll go out to see him” Noel joined the Sergeant and they began chatting. One hour passed, two hours passed, three hours passed. No drinks could be passed to Noel’s ten colleagues for all that time, we can try to understand what it was like to be hemmed in the kitchen no drink, and no exit possible.
Even though his term for Minister of Education was all to brief he was ambitious innovative and action driven. Startled on one occasion when a friend of his about his own age confessed as not being able to read or write. Noel set about a major drive to revamp the adult and back to school educational and second chance opportunities. His decisive action at that time was the catalyst for the major expansion on this area which has taken place since. Noel knew the importance of self esteem and the dignity and sense of well being that these attributes brought to people. For decades children with special needs were neglected Noel understood the trauma and pressure that parents and families with children with learning and physical disabilities went through. He left no stone unturned in the fight for the upgrading and provision of much improved services at Scoil Cormack. He diverted a massive school building programme to the schools in South Tipperary. Noel never looked for kudos for what he had done, but he got great personal satisfaction for just getting the job done. As Minister for State of Agriculture he brought his vast experience in Europe to bear on the problems of the day and was an expert in attracting funds to disadvantaged areas. His positive and aggressive approach to the foot and mouth out break was to prove immensely successful in the Governments drive to prevent the disease from spreading. He had an uncanny ability to advice groups as to how to prepare and present a programme for various grant aids and the hallmark of this work has been witnessed in this constituency with the successful Leader Projects.
Noel was a bold boy, he was troublesome and mischievous. His father Mick not long out of the troubles kept a gun upstairs. At five years of age Noel found the bullets and landed one into the fire. Fifty years before fire work displays became fashionable Noel Davern had a fireworks display in his fathers pub in Cashel.
Ann Marie you’re not the biggest woman in the parish but you have the biggest heart, you have been a tower of strength beside and behind Noel throughout his political career and since he loved you dearly. You have been a great embassador for Ireland. When yourself and Noel deputised for me in Lebanon you both displayed immense respect for the defence forces and the Davern family should be proud of your work there.
Don, Mark and Devina your dad was so proud of you, and proud of what you have achieved. He wanted so much to see you do well and was behind you all every step of the way. His grandchildren Alex, Darragh, Jessie, Josh and Heather were the idols of his life. You gave him back his childhood he adored you and had a wonderful time with you. It’s a pity that there was not more time for that enjoyment. You will however carry those endearing memories with you throughout your life. Darragh “do you remember what your granddad said to your dad when you were born”, Darragh says “no”, he said “may you not give as many nightmares to your dad as your dad gave to me”
Noel worked one miracle. He made Gerry Chalke cross the Rubicon and vote number one for Davern Noel. It was surely a miracle that Gerry and Ann Carew, Noel’s wonderful friends were pillars beside Ann Marie helping and supporting her as the sands of Noels life were ebbing away. Their true friendship was present in abundance to try and bring Ann Marie through those terrible and traumatic and agonising moments.
Tipperary hills for me he sang it beautifully. He loved this county. Quoting William Butler Yates “A mans glory begins and ends with his friends”. The late councillor Michael Anglim describing Noel said “what a friend”. By that criteria Noel has surely passed the test and on that scales up in heaven I’m sure the good that he has done will far out weigh any faults or failings he may have had. We will relive and recall dose memories and tell the many stories over again. There may be some of them which may not be aired until the censorship board has been abolished. We will be inspired to undertake some of the unfinished tasks that Noel wanted to see through. We will try to follow his example in looking after the vulnerable, underprivileged and those who have no one to stand up for them. We should look for no kudos in return.
Ar dheis Dé Anamm dílis.