HE was a man who left Kerry ‘with no more than the clothes on his back’ but who went on to found an empire and rub shoulders with royalty.
The extent of that incredible construction and horse-racing empire was reflected in the massive crowds that descended on the sleepy village of Duagh that Patsy Bryne called home.
Nestled in the rolling pastures of north Kerry and overlooking the River Feale, it welcomed the elite of the horse-racing and construction worlds last Thursday as thousands bade farewell to the legendary co-founder of Byrne Brothers’ construction.
They came in their thousands to St Brigid’s Church to pay their respects to Mr Byrne’s widow Bridget, sons Michael and Seán, daugther Siobhán, brother Johnny, sisters Helen, Lizzie and Mary and the large extended Byrne clan.
Mr Byrne’s sudden death three days’ previously rocked the worlds of horse-racing, greyhound-racing, construction and the GAA at home and abroad.
For all his success in these areas, it was abundantly clear he remained true to his roots always – evident from the presence of the ordinary people of the county and country in huge numbers.
Thursday’s farewell to the much-loved businessman culminated in a powerful and eloquent eulogy delivered by son Michael that was illuminated by his father’s love of family, wit and his deep faith.
Former Republic of Ireland star Niall Quinn and his wife Gillian were prominent among the mourners, alongside luminaries from the world of horse-racing such as JP McManus, Tony Martin, John Joe O’Neill, Dessie Hughes, Gordon Elliott, Eddie O’Grady and jockeys Tony McCoy, Tom Queally and Jamie Spencer in one of the largest funerals ever seen in the area.
Celebrated by Parish Priest Fr Pat Moore, the ceremony began with a number of Mr Byrne’s grandchildren bringing items of special significance to mark the cornerstones of his life. Chief among them was the Kerry National trophy brought up by grandson Connell; marking one of the proudest achievements of his sporting career, which took place only days before his passing.
Close family friend Fr Gerry Devlin delivered a moving homily as he bore witness to a man he said was like a ‘father’ to him.
“We gather to celebrate the larger-than-life figure known as Patsy Byrne, a very special person,” Fr Devlin said. “We could all stand up here and give the homily ourselves because we all have individual stories of the ways in which Patsy touched our lives.”
Fr Devlin touched on all the areas, from family to horse-racing and construction, in which Mr Byrne’s talent shone; alluding to his hugely-successful partnership with Prince Edward in greyhound racing.
“He would go the extra mile for family, friends and colleagues. He reached out especially to many people he didn’t even know without the expectation of personal gain. If you needed help, Patsy was the man you turned to.
“It was a pleasure to know Patsy and to spend time in his company. Although no longer with us, he will never be forgotten,” Fr Devlin said.
The extraordinary story of the man who left Duagh with no material wealth but who went on to play a major part in building some of Britian’s most iconic buildings and rub shoulders with royalty was outlined beautifully in his son Michael’s eulogy.
Behind it all was the figure of Patsy’s wife Bridget, confirming a well-known adage.
“He left Kerry with no more than the clothes on his back and with his brother Johnny, supported by my mother, he built an empire.”
Bridget, his children and grandchildren meant everything to him with the latter bringing new joy into his life more recently, Michael said.
The eulogy was rich in anecdote, not least in recounting a famous meeting between the Duagh native and Queen Elizabeth.
“He had just bought two horses from her and she wanted to meet him. “I believe Patsy you are taking a filly from Motivator?’ the Queen asked. ‘That’s correct ma’am’, dad replied, saying: ‘I’m glad you asked that because I wanted to talk about a discount!’.
She took a step back and I think it’s safe to say she had never been asked something like that before!” Michael recalled, to gales of laughter in the church and among the throng gathered outside.
His father had some choice sayings as well in life, familiar to so many at the Mass if the laughter was anything to go by: “‘The plan is…there’s no plan.’ ‘Ring me back when you have less time’. ‘When I want your opinion I will give it to you’.”
The legendary business acumen was also touched on, in a plan-hatching taxi ride into London he once took with his father.
“He told me he was planning on setting up a stud farm with me as a partner. He had discovered, however, that if a family member under the age of 35 completed an agricultural course you wouldn’t have to pay stamp duty on it. I suggested a number of names of family members until it finally dawned on me. ‘It’s me isn’t it? I asked him.
“Yes son. I knew you’d get there. You’re leaving at 6pm and the course starts first thing in the morning!”
His father treated all people equally, from chairmen to workers. “His faith was very important to him. He was devoted to God and the thought of him being with our maker now is helping us,” Michael added.