Some 2,000 people, from all parts of the island of Ireland joined President Mary McAleese on Saturday as she unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Dermot Earley, the former Defence Forces Chief of Staff, and one of the greatest GAA players never to win an All-Ireland medal.
The ceremony in his home village of Gorthaganny ( population 300) in West Roscommon was attended by a host of VIP’s , – from the Army, from the GAA, indeed from all walks of life, who came to join in this tribute to one of Roscommon’s favourite – and greatest – sons.
The statue was erected on a plinth alongside the local National School where his late father, Peadar taught and was principal for many years) and no more than 50 metres from the home of his 87 years old mother, Kitty. It was a fitting tribute to the genial giant who won two All Stars and was a key
Roscommon stalwart for some 20 years before Managing the county and later Kildare where he was stationed when in the Army.
Sadly his life ended at age 62 when he died of cancer, some 10 days after he was forced to retire from the Armed Forces due to his serious condition.
The Bishop of Elphin, Dr Christopher Jones, who described Mr Earley as “a remarkable man who died before his time”, performed the official blessing.
Others in the 2,000 attendance including his great friend, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh , heard President McAleese say that whilst the Earley family were to share Dermot with the Defence Forces and the Nation, there was never a more loved Chief of Staff.
He was, she said, not only in Gorthaganny and Roscommon but nationwide “a hero, a statesman, a man of remarkable character, skill and sheer goodness. For the people of Roscommon, he was a Cúchulainn -type figure, an exceptional sportsman who had a rare talent to inspire and motivate,” she added.
“He was a devoted family man, a renowned sporting hero, an outstanding soldier, an inspiring leader, a tremendous ambassador for Ireland,” Mrs McAleese continued.
Fittingly the Army No 1 band was on hand throughout the ceremony whilst a lone piper played ‘ The West’s Awake’ before three wreaths were laid by the monument, one by Earley’s widow Mary, another on behalf of the local community by lifelong friend and local farmer Martin Walshe, and the third by
Roscommon GAA County Board chairman, Michael Fahey.
Members of the Earley family, including his mother Kitty, his wife Mary, and children David, Conor, Dermot, Paula, Ann Marie and Noelle were special guests at the ceremony whilst members of the Defence Forces provided full military honours.
His brothers Peter and Paul and sisters Denise and Margaret were also present.
President McAleese was right when she added that Dermot Earley was “one of the finest men ever born on this island”.