In his homily Father Bradley said this was a service of celebration but for all his endeavours great waves of sadness kept crashing through. Beforehand a big screen to the left of the altar showed a smiling a smiling sequence of winning moments and family pleasure down the years. But once the first hymn struck up we were beset by the collective ache for happiness past.
Great lives do this to you. They take you back to great moments you witnessed and people you revered. If you lived in the racing world there have been no greater moments, no one more revered than what was listed to British readers as “trained M.V O’Brien in Ireland.” Vincent with Cottage Rake at Cheltenham (almost before my time), in front of the house at Ballydoyle with the Jacqueline and two of the children and the three Grand National winners, Early Mist, Royal Tan and Quare Times.
The screen at the end of the church moved on to flat race memories: Gladness and Ballymoss in black and white and then Vincent with Larkspur, Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, Golden Fleece, Alleged and of course what was now two old men together, Vincent and a red-silked Lester and their last Royal Ascot heroics with College Chapel. Vincent had lived all this but because of him we had lived it too. Father Bradley announced the hymn: “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”. The second line is “forgive our foolish ways.“ Don’t bother looking around the congregation, compared to the man in the coffin, all of us have to sob into feebleness.
The service did its best but the echoes of greatness and the sense of our own inadequacy kept floating back. The first lesson, read by grandson Jamie Myerscough, was the piece from the book of revelations which says “I am the Alpha and the Omega”. Exactly. The second lesson, read, with pointed firmness by daughter Sue Magnier, was the one from Isaiah about “setting things right.”. Sure there is a sense of wonder that so many will follow but it’s correct to register the passing of the first who led.
Without Charles O’Brien the service could have ended a sombre even if successful occasion. But once he stood up and began to detail the family involvement, the five children, 97 grandchildren and however many great grandchildren at the last count, he both eased things and brought us closer. To talk coherently, movingly, and wittily at your own father’s funeral is one of the great challenges of the human condition. Charles O’Brien never looked like failing it.
By the time he nearly broke down he had taken us all away from mere grieving at the passing. His voice began to crack when he paid tribute to his mother, the unique consort that was Jacqueline, the Australian politician’s daughter who mistakenly strayed into Merrion Square in the fifties and without whom nothing would have been complete. Jacqueline was at the reception at the K Club afterwards and as ever was accentuating the positive, in this case of getting Vincent back home to die.