On a soaking, overcast morning, they came in their hundreds to honour a man who was at the heart of the Ballyduff/Kilmeaden community, a public servant in the truest sense of the expression.
The colours of his beloved Ballyduff and Limerick draped Cllr Leahy’s coffin as he was brought to his final resting place, three days after his unexpected death which stunned both the local community and beyond.
The contribution that Pat Leahy (60) made to his adopted homeplace and to County Waterford was reflected upon in the comments of both Minister Cullen and Father Michael O’Byrne, another dear friend.
“In spite of all our advances, economics wise and communication wise, somehow or another we still have only a small number of people who make things happen,” said the Portlaw/Ballyduff Parish Priest.
“Pat Leahy was certainly one of those. He certainly made things happen, not just in this parish but in this county – he had a hand in so many things…
A born organiser
“This man was a born organiser. It’s impossible to explain that he had a hand in so many things and it wasn’t just in a political way but in a wonderful community, reaching out to everyone kind of way. Pat – he had a hand in so many things.”
When the roof of Saint Nicholas’s Church needed replacing, Pat Leahy spearheaded the fundraising effort, helping to generate the €150,000 required to carry out the works.
Just across the road from where Fr O’Byrne delivered his homily, another of Pat Leahy’s legacies has risen from the blueprint presented during the offertory procession into bricked and mortared reality.
“That school extension, now well underway (is) due to be completed next May,” added Fr O’Byrne.
“A €2.1 million extension, Pat had a big hand in the early days in pushing for that. It took us 10 years and in the early days, Pat was very, very much involved in the school board, pushing for that much-needed extension.
“Pat measured out an awful lot of time and energy and service to everybody, not just to Kilmeaden people but to the wider county area. He was streets ahead of his time.”
In his concluding remarks, subsequently met with sustained applause, Fr O’Byrne addressed Cllr Leahy’s political colleagues present in the congregation.
“Could I just mention this as a possibility, a bold suggestion to you. When that new highway, that new (Kilmeaden) bypass highway is finally completed, perhaps it might be possible to dedicate the Kilmeaden part to Pat.”
A son’s reflection
Cllr Leahy’s son Paul told mourners that while his father will be remembered for his many contributions to the political and sporting realms, his family will remember him in simpler terms.
“Things such as his great driving skills,” said Paul, managing a smile on so difficult a day for himself, mother Breda and sisters Elaine and Sarah.
“He was no Michael Schumacher but we got there in the end – or as the sticker on the back of his old jeep said, ‘I may be slow but I’m ahead of you’.
“He was a Limerick man at heart until he lost his heart to Mammy; he became half a Deiseman then even though he denied it.
“Dad was a kind; generous, warm-hearted man who we can honestly say put everyone else’s needs before his own.”
Paul acknowledged the attendance of the Taoiseach’s representative, Commandant Michael Treacy, the Gardaí “for their tremendous work and sensitivity on the night of Dad’s death,” the Portlaw Fire Service and Fr O’Byrne.
His voice breaking with emotion, Paul thanked all those who had helped during this most testing of times for the Leahy family. Addressing his father, a tearful son said: “Just to say, Dad, we’ll miss you lots.”
Cullen’s emotional address
During a touching address, Minister Cullen spoke “of a man who is going to meet God with pride and a strong sense of achievement”.
Stated Minister Cullen: “Pat Leahy was, at his core, a dedicated family man. In my many dealings with Pat over the years, he always spoke so warmly of his family; his love for Breda and especially his children, Pat had a deep sense of pride in Paul, Elaine and Sarah, which was enviable…
“To his credit, he was never willing to accept no for an answer. He always believed that progress was possible. Time and again, his motivation in life to ease the plight of someone’s misfortune or to deliver a vital new service.
“Here in this community, we can all take pride in the work of Pat Leahy and his influence will no doubt be felt for many years ahead.”
Said the Minister: “He valued, above all else the Republican ethos in which the Fianna Fáil party was founded. He fully supported the ideals of people like Tone and De Valera, that the state must extend a helping hand to those who most need it. And God he did it often.
“I know that his commitment to politics and to Fianna Fáil will always be a part of the memories that I have for Pat Leahy. He served with three Taoisigh on our party’s national executive and he was a friend to all of them. He was as comfortable engaging with Bertie Ahern as he was sitting down with the lads in De Laceys.”
‘His belief in me was constant’
Minister Cullen reflected on a man who provided constant commitment, encouragement, loyalty and criticism during his political career.
“But above all his unshakable belief in me, particularly at difficult times, will remain with me forever,” he said.
“We say goodbye to a man who worked hard and achieved much. Above all else, today our thoughts and our prayers are with Breda, with Paul, Elaine and Sarah, together with Pat’s brothers and sisters.
“Your loss is immeasurable and words will not ease your grief today. In time I hope that the memories of a man of integrity, a dedicated servant to the people of Waterford and a loving father and husband will remain strong for decades to come.
“I’ve no doubt that the sense of loss we all feel today will be replaced by memories of a man who made a difference and whose legacy will be long cherished…
“So to you Pat, on behalf of all of us here today, we thank you for sharing your life with us. We thank you for your smile, your sense of humour and the gifts that you brought. And from me I want to say, it was a privilege to call you my friend.