FOND memories were shared as the funeral took place of Irish community leader Tony Birtill in Liverpool.
The former author, journalist and teacher, who was also a fluent Gaelic speaker, passed away while in hospice care in the early hours of October 21.
He was laid to rest at Bootle Cemetery on Monday, November 8, following a funeral Mass held at the Blessed Sacrament Church.
Members of the Irish community across Britain were in attendance for the funeral, as were many mourners who travelled from Ireland, including Francie Molloy, the Sinn Féin MP for Mid Ulster.
The Banna Fliuit Learpholl – Liverpool Irish Republican Flute Band provided a guard of honour at both ceremonies on the day, which were followed by a reception held at the Liverpool Irish Centre.
Those who gathered for the funeral learnt that Mr Birtill, who was one of six children born to an Irish mother and Lancashire-born father in Liverpool in 1954, remained committed to his Irish roots right up to his final days.
In a touching eulogy, Mr Birtill’s sister Angela Birtill confirmed: “Ireland was central in Tony’s life.
“He was a lifelong Irish Republican and his commitment to the Irish language; his love of Ireland’s landscape and culture ran deep.”
Ms Birtill revealed that one week prior to his death, Tony had married his long-term partner Grace, whom he had met on one of the guided hill-walking tours he ran in Donegal.
“To take part on one of Tony’s guided walks through the hills and glens around Glencolmcille was magical,” Ms Birtill added.
“Oideas Gael say Tony led thousands of walkers over the cliffs of Sliabh Liag.
“It was on one of these walks that Tony met his beautiful partner Grace and made hundreds of friends.”
She also recalled his continued commitment to the Irish community in Britain.
“Tony worked with others to make the contribution of Irish emigrants to this city and to Ireland visible by erecting plaques and holding commemorations and parades,” Ms Birtill explained.
“I remember taking part in one of the first commemorations they organised at Ford Cemetery, Bootle for the Liverpool Republicans who had taken part in Easter Rising,” she added.
“As I was waiting by the monument for Tony and the other organisers to leave the pub, I got talking to an old man who told me about the commemorations that had been held in the cemetery when he was a child.
“He just couldn’t believe his eyes when suddenly Tony’s group finally arrived with their banners and proceeded to revive a ceremony that had meant such a lot to the old man.”
Mr Birtill, who was a regular contributor to the Irish Post for many years, was also remembered for his “big laugh”.
“The first thing I remember about Tony was his big loud laugh,” his sister confirmed.
“A neighbour told our mum you could hear Tony’s laugh right down the road,” she added.
“He was incredibly funny and very fiery and we were always fighting when we were little.”
Despite his worsening health in the weeks leading up to his death, Mr Birtill remained committed to those he loved.
“As Tony’s condition deteriorated and moved to hospice care he was surrounded by those he loved,” Ms Birtill said.
“He married Grace the week before he passed away,” she added.
“He listened to the Liverpool games with [his son] Liam. And to Irish radio with Grace.”
She concluded: “The Liverpool Irish Republican Flute Band, of which Tony was a proud member, have described Tony as ‘the beating heart of the Liverpool Irish community’.
“Tony may no longer be with us, but he will always be loved, and I’ll never forget his big laugh.”