Godfather makes his last exit to the sound of music

FIVE DAYS after he was gunned down in broad daylight on a Dublin street, Ireland's most notorious criminal godfather of the past two decades received a more dignified send-off than that accorded him by his IRA executioners.

As his coffin was lowered into the open grave, a dozen of Martin Cahill's relatives quietly began singing, led by a male relative strumming a guitar: 'Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be. The future's not ours to see, Que sera sera.'

One of his daughters began sobbing as a second, more confident chorus, was carried by the light breeze between the high trees and grandiose Victorian mausoleums of Dublin's Mount Jerome Cemetery out to the hundreds packing the neighbouring pathways.

Over the heads of the mourners, 30 large wreaths were then passed to the graveside. They ranged from three making up 'Que Sera Sera', to 'Martin' in red flowers on white daisies, and a large 'Granda'. One from 'The Premier' came from his pigeon club.

Ten gleaming black Mercedes stretch limousines carried the large Cahill family from funeral Mass amid the ornate splendour of the Church of Mary Immaculate, Our Lady of Refuge in Rathmines.

There, beneath its brightly-coloured vaulted ceilings and huge baroque dome, every level of the Dublin criminal hierarchy was plain to see.

His immediate family, led by his wife Frances, her sister Tina, and his three sons and two daughters, were immaculate in new black suits. Behind them sat three rows of close acquaintances, all strikingly dressed in black or brown leather jackets. A small thin elderly man, his shirt collar worn through, carried a single bouquet.

Cahill may have milked fortunes from a life of carefully-executed robberies and kidnappings. Others in his shadowy world had clearly had briefer, leaner pickings.

Most striking were the taut serious faces of the numerous young men with close-cropped hair, one or two bearing long scar marks, recalling the fierce discipline imposed within Cahill's armed raiders' ranks. (He once had an associate nailed to a floor after he was suspected of siphoning off gold from a jewellery factory raid).

A few in newer leathers wore conspicuous heavy gold rings mounted with sovereigns or multiple stones. As the host was distributed, they looked nervously around at familiar underworld faces among the 700-strong congregation, among them an old boys' network of prison graduates from Cahill's former residences, Mountjoy and the tough regime of Cork's Spike Island.

The family group in the front rows was short of five of the General's brothers from his eleven siblings.

Two had preceded him to the grave (one died of a drugs overdose in prison), while two of three others currently in jail rejected governors' offers of a day's leave to view the remains, according to a Department of Justice spokeswoman. None of the prisoners were allowed out for the funeral Mass. Leading six priests in celebrating Mass, Father Jim Caffrey deftly avoided condemnation, referring to the earlier biblical lesson telling how Jesus made demands too great for some to fulfil. Christ's followers 'are free to reject or accept his message. Many find He asks too much of them,' he said. 'The way of violence can only lead to death,' Fr Caffrey argued, urging his listeners away from more bloodshed. 'Choose life, not death, choose forgiveness not revenge. To live this way, to break the cycle of violence, is often not the way of the coward but of the truly strong.'

A different, plaintive message came in the 1970s hit song sung at the end of the Mass by a middle- aged male relative: '(You left me) Just when I needed you most.'

Later, when the priests had completed the burial and hard men had queued to drop single red roses on the coffin, he sang again. In a graveyard which gardai had diplomatically chosen not to enter, it was now a more defiant lament, its chorus line: 'Every time you touch me I become a hero.'

There were contrasting opinions outside the church too. On leaving, two elderly inner-city women declared: 'It was a beautiful Mass.' A detective with years of unfruitful experience of trying to collar Cahill was less moved. 'He was a right mean bastard,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)