Comment & Analysis

A faith that was no burden
Integrity was the cornerstone of Liam Cosgrave’s life, writes Msgr John Wilson

Msgr John Wilson

Liam Cosgrave’s wife Vera died on September 16, 2016 and was buried from this Church. Now just over one year later we gather once more this time for Liam’s funeral and for his last journey to and from this Church where he worshipped throughout his life.

Liam telephoned me when Vera died and made clear that there were to be no “speeches or nonsense” at the Requiem Mass. I will follow that instruction today for Liam’s Requiem.

The scripture readings you have heard were chosen by Liam’s family. They are well chosen.

The First reading from the Book of Wisdom is an assurance that the virtuous woman or man need have no fear of death because those who are faithful in life will live with God in love.

The second reading from the First Letter of St John assures us that as children of God after our death we will see God as he really is and that we shall be like him. Death is the means of purification for intimacy with God.

The Gospel tells us: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. There are many rooms in my Father’s house.” For each and every one of us from the moment of our conception God has prepared a place for us in Heaven. If that place remains empty after my death, it is because I have rejected God not because God has rejected me.

Pope Francis emphasises the mercy of God. In fact he says “the name of God is mercy”. The forgiveness of God is always on offer no matter how far we may stray from the right path.

In the Preface of this Requiem Mass you will hear the phrase “Lord for your faithful people, life is changed not ended”.

All of this Liam Cosgrave understood well. He was a man of solid and practical faith. He was not in any sense piotious or ostentatious but lived his faith to the best of his ability and it sustained him throughout his long life.


I have known Liam Cosgrave since about 1965. We became friends through hunting. I am afraid that we did not catch any “mongrel foxes”! Liam attended my ordination in 1979 and ever practical he gave me a gift of a combined chalice and paten suitable for small group Masses in a house or classroom. I am using this chalice today in memory of Liam. This chalice has been much used in classroom and house Masses but until today it has never been used in a church.

Liam Cosgrave was a devout and committed Catholic like his father before him. He carried it easily and for him it was never a burden. It was simply part of who he was. He had many close friends who were members of other Christian denominations and he was a true ecumenist long before that word was in regular use. He respected the faith and belief of others or indeed their non-belief.

Liam was elected to Dáil Éireann at the young age of 23 and throughout his life dedicated himself to the Common Good. One might disagree with his views or his approach on particular issues, but I think there are few if any who would question his integrity, his dedication or his vocation in giving a devoted service to his country. He was a patriot in the best sense of that word and a true democrat.

Liam had a great devotion to Rome and loved the city. At the age of 14 in 1934 along with his father and mother he had an audience with Pope Pius XI. He visited Rome many times throughout his life.

In fact he read the lesson in St Peter’s Square at the Mass for the canonisation of St Oliver Plunkett in 1975 celebrated by Pope Paul VI.

Irish College

In 1956 on a visit to Rome – when Liam was Minister for External Affairs as it was then called – he spoke on Vatican Radio and he used the Latin phrase which is inscribed on a wall inside the main door of the Irish College in Rome “Ut Christiani Ita et Romani Sitis” which he gave in translation as “as you are Christian so be you likewise Roman”. This, Liam said, is an injunction from St Patrick!

I was living in Rome in 1985 when Liam and his late wife Vera and Mary came out on a visit. We had a very pleasant few days together. It was Easter time. Liam decided to attend the Easter Vigil ceremony in St Peter’s Basilica but wanted to participate as an ordinary member of the faithful. However he was spotted by an official of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See who insisted on leading them to a more appropriate place in the basilica. (I think the official concerned was either Cardinal Casaroli or Archbishop Re) This is just one small example of the humility of Liam Cosgrave which so many have commented on in recent days, on how this humility influenced his whole life.

Humility is of course a Christian virtue. It is not about being reticent or self effacing but rather in recognising that whatever gifts and talents we have are not of our own creation but were given us by God.

Archbishop Connell published a Pastoral Letter in 1992 entitled “Christian integrity: does it matter”? I know that this pastoral struck a chord with Liam Cosgrave. I quote just a couple of sentences:

“In a democracy the freedom of politicians in the making of decisions is limited by the perception of what the people are willing to accept. Politicians are sometimes criticised for failing to tackle our problems when the fault may lie more in our unwillingness to support them if they devise policies that call for sacrifice from us. Those who have influence in forming public opinion and not least Church leaders have responsibilities here.

“The welfare of our society is very much in the hands of politicians, the task to which they dedicate their lives is one of the noblest but it imposes on them special moral responsibility.

“Politicians, as persons of integrity, must be able to deal with the demands of their supporters in ways that do not offend against justice. We forfeit our right to complain about lack of integrity in politicians if that integrity is lacking first of all in ourselves. Those who hold public office are entrusted with part of the public good, integrity is essential to the fulfilment of that trust.”

I think most reasonable people would agree that integrity was the cornerstone of Liam’s political life and private life and so approaching the judgement of God that all of us will face he should have no fear or anxiety.

The great mystic St John of the Cross wrote “in the evening of our lives we will be judged on how we have loved”. Liam Cosgrave loved his family, his country and his faith. We can be sure that the Lord will greet him with the words “well done good and faithful servant, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world”.

May Liam Cosgrave quickly rejoin his late wife Vera and father and mother and receive from the Lord the reward he will so richly deserve for his exemplary life of service to his Faith to his family and to this state.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.


Homily prepared for the funeral Mass for Liam Cosgrave in Rathfarnham’s Church of the Annunciation on October 7, 2017.