City desk

How Do You Open a Book of Condolences?

A reader asked why there has been no book of condolences opened at Mansion House for those who were killed in the recent fires in Greece, including Brian O’Callaghan-Westropp, from Ireland, who died there on his honeymoon.

The process of opening a public book of condolences at the lord mayor’s official residence on Dawson Street usually starts with a call from the public, or from other politicians.

It might be to pay their respects to someone who had died, or to express sympathy and solidarity following a tragedy – national or international (recently, in Palestine, Barcelona, and Manchester).

Labour Councillor Brendan Carr, who was Dublin’s lord mayor from 2016 to 2017, says a key issue is whether there’s enough public support, because if nobody signs the book, it’s an insult to the memory of those who died.

“When Martin McGuinness died we had one, and that was supported,” he says, but when Cuban communist revolutionary Fidel Castro died in 2016, the public was less supportive.

That was a controversial one, remembers Carr. “People had an issue with Castro because of human rights, but our argument was that he had changed Cuba,” and there was a large Cuban population in Dublin that wanted to sign, he says.

Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha, who was lord mayor from 2017 to 2018, says there are no guidelines, but in his own experience, it’s based on precedent.

“There’s tragedies all the time, but there has to be selectivity, otherwise there’d be one open all the time,” he says. “You have to know the public will be supportive. You have to strike while the iron is hot.”

A Comfort to Families

The aim of a book of condolences is to offer Dubliners a chance to express their sympathies, and commit to paper their thoughts and feelings during times of tragedy.

The Mansion House spreads the word through press releases and social media that the book is open to be signed for a number of days at the lord mayor’s official residence on Dawson Street.

The president will sign first, then councillors, then the lord mayor, then it’s open to the public.

After that, the signatures and pages are bound, and sent either to the family of the deceased or to the embassy of the country concerned.

The Mansion House does not retain copies of books of condolence, said a spokesperson for the council.

Independent Councillor Christy Burke was lord mayor of Dublin from 2014 to 2015, and remembers opening a book of condolences for Jonathan Corrie, who died just metres from the Dáil in 2015, having lived on the streets of the capital for years.

“I think it’s a great comfort to families who have loved ones who died in tragic circumstances, that people took the time out to sign,” he says. “And ambassadors are always very grateful.”

The Key

In the end, the protocol for opening a public book of condolences in Dublin’s Mansion House is simple: it’s completely at the lord mayor’s discretion.

Current Lord Mayor Nial Ring could not be reached before the time of publication to respond to queries on why a book of condolences has not yet been opened in the case of the fires in Greece and the death of O’Callaghan-Westropp.

Zuzia Whelan portrait
Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at zwhelan@dublininquirer.com.

 

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