By Ray O’Hanlon
The family and a good representation of the many, many friends of Sean McNeill gathered in the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan this morning.
They did so to say a final farewell, most reluctantly, to a man who exemplified the very best of what Ireland has to give to America.
In Sean’s specific case, that very best was shared with countless others who benefited over the years from his friendship, his counsel, and his unerring ability to bring people together from all over.
Sean was bringing people together from all over for one last time.
His sisters and brothers came from Ireland so as to bring Sean home to rest in his native Roscommon.
His friends came from their homes and places of work to mourn Sean’s passing, and comfort one another, even as they found it difficult to fully shed their shock and disbelief.
Sean’s illness was not a long one, so many spoke of coffee and lunch meetings that would not now take place.
The sudden absence of a larger than life friend was jarring.
But, as it is always, the words spoken, the prayers uttered, the hymns sung, provided comfort, familiarity, a refuge.
Sean was, in the words of eulogy delivered by Irish Business Organization President Nicholas Malito, a social butterfly who exhibited an extraordinary ability to make friends and enable friendships between others, often in the time covered by just one event in one room.
This was indeed an accurate assessment of the man. But just one assessment of one aspect of the man.
Sean McNeill was a link between people, a skilled connector, and a charmer. He was a businessman, but also a natural diplomat.
His years as president of the IBO handed Sean a stage of sorts, a capacity, but never a bully pulpit.
He was a man who convinced you quietly.
As Nick Malito noted, Sean gave generously of his time and energy to organizations that work to give, such as Concern, Self Help Africa, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, the New York Irish Center and others.
Sean McNeill was a big hearted man who traveled through life with a confidence that comes from knowing who you are, and where you came from.
And at the end of funeral Mass Sean began his journey home to Castlerea in County Roscommon.
Outside the basilica’s great doors a lone piper played in the sunshine of July’s final day, and members of the Roscommon Society, wearing their sashes, delivered a final salute.
It was a hot and sultry New York City morning. Castlerea seemed far away.
And then came the cooling breeze, rustling the leaves on the hardy trees of Mott Street.
Sean was sending the breeze, said one in the throng.
And of course he was.
And in the breeze there were words.
Words said in an interview a few years ago in which Sean McNeill seemed to sum up himself, and his life.
“Be there, be a decent guy.”