Before I pay tribute to a dear friend and former colleague, the late Willie Farrell, I acknowledge the presence of his lifelong friend, former Deputy Mattie Brennan and very many friends, including Councillor Patsy Barry, John Feeney and their respective wives who are attending this very special occasion in company with Willie's family.
With a heavy heart I shall say a few words about the sad passing of a truly remarkable man who was both a friend and colleague to all of us in the House. I had great admiration for the late Senator Willie Farrell who, we all know, was a great person and a highly intelligent Member of Seanad Éireann and a truly excellent public servant.
Born in the shadow of Ben Bulben 82 years ago, Willie came from a family steeped in the republican tradition and ideals to which he was true all his life. There are many facets to Willie Farrell and the political life he served so long and honourably. There was Willie Farrell the businessman. There was the man who was so much involved in the community and there was the family man. As far as Willie was concerned his family were the most important people in the world. He was blessed with a wonderful marriage to Mary who passed away in 1984. In latter years he was blessed to have a second marriage to Breda who passed away in 2007.
Willie Farrell often spoke with pride of his three children, Seamus, Liam and Helen; his daughter-in-law, Siobhan; his son-in-law, Pauric, and his five grandchildren. He was so very proud of all of them. They must feel a great loss today but it is nice to see all of them in attendance.
Before entering public life, Willie Farrell had very many other jobs. He was an entrepreneur long before his time, even before the word "entrepreneur" became fashionable. He had many jobs especially the one he became most involved in, the cattle trade, and went on to become a director of the North West Cattle Market in Grange. The late Senator was also an undertaker and worked for the ESB. During that time he suffered a great personal tragedy when he sustained a very serious injury. Drawing on his own inner strength and with the love and support of his beloved wife, Mary, he recovered and went on to achieve very many great things. He became involved in the milk business and spent many years running the agency for Alfa Laval and for milking machine suppliers in the west of Ireland. In 1960, with his wife, Mary, he opened a restaurant and filling station in Grange in the north west. In latter years he became involved in the auctioneering business and was very successful, becoming its national president.
Willie Farrell's political career spanned 35 years. He first joined Sligo County Council in 1967 and served for a remarkable 30 years, becoming chairman of the council in 1989. In that year I had the great honour of visiting New York for St Patrick's Day as chairman of Westmeath County Council and Willie and I had the great distinction of meeting Cardinal O'Connor. That occasion was one of the great memories we had of our public life as county councillors.
Willie was also a member of the North Western Health Board for many years and served as chairman in 1982. During his time on the health board he gained a reputation for his very progressive ideas. Arising from this involvement he served as chairman of the National Health Boards of Ireland for an unbelievable 12 years, such was the esteem in which he was held by his fellow councillors. The same esteem and respect saw him elected to the Seanad in 1982 on the Industrial and Commercial Panel. His frequent speeches were carefully listened to by politicians of all parties in the House. He lost his seat in 1983. Deputy Brennan and I were with him and Mary at 2.20 a.m. when that happened, a sad occasion. However, he came back and was re-elected in 1987, holding his seat until his retirement in 2002.
Although he was very successful at national level, Willie never lost sight of his roots or from where he came. He stayed active in his community all his life, believing that local groups working together can achieve great things. In 1982 the chairman of the North Western Health Board gave him £1,000 for his expenses which he used to help disabled people. He bought a pony and trap and raised money by travelling from Bundoran to the horse show in Ballsbridge. He received another £1,000 from the Bank of Ireland manager, Brian O'Neill, and raised a total of £20,000 which enabled the construction of a home for the disabled in Bundoran.
In latter life Willie took up golf and won the world putting championship for one-armed golfers. Sport, especially golf, played an enormous part in his life. As many Members know, golf is a difficult game at the best of times. To become a world champion was a truly remarkable and wonderful achievement but I would not expect anything less of the former Senator. Willie Farrell was determined to succeed in all he ever attempted. He went on to become captain of Bundoran Golf Club and of the Oireachtas Golf Society.
Willie was well regarded throughout the local community for his hard work, and his enthusiasm and warm personality won everybody over. He was a great support to many people and was always willing to help and offer guidance. He was an excellent orator and commanded attention when he spoke. He was often involved in heated discussions on matters close to his heart both on the Seanad floor and in the parliamentary party of Fianna Fáil. He was a lifelong member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and was well known for his strong stance on the dangers of alcohol abuse.
Willie was a very honourable and loyal public servant, serving at both local and national levels for more than 35 years. He was an immensely popular man and his loss will be felt widely among his friends and colleagues. He leaves behind the legacy of what he achieved during his life and the memory of a fantastic spirit and a great character. No challenge was too great for him.
We on this side of the House knew Willie to be a great servant of the Fianna Fáil Party, of which he was so proud. He was a staunch defender of the party and a great upholder of its traditional values. We will miss him dearly.
On a personal level, I was privileged to serve as Leader of Seanad Éireann during Willie's tenure as a Senator. He served as assistant Government Whip. I personally owe him a great debt of gratitude, as do all colleagues on this side of the House, for his loyalty, service and sound advice which he gave to many of us from time to time.
On behalf of the House and especially the Fianna Fáil group, I offer sincere condolences to Willie's sons, Seamus and Liam, daughter, Helen, daughter-in-law, Siobhan, and son-in-law, Pauric, as well as his five grandchildren, on the loss of a truly wonderful father and grandfather. Go ndéanfaidh Dia trócaire ar a anam.