I loiter in the park across the road from the church, plucking up the necessary courage.
Eventually, after a few minutes’ prevarication, I know I have no choice. I come out of the park, cross the road and walk slowly through the car park of St. Joseph’s, my heart pounding.
Normally I don’t have a problem doing high profile funerals. Like most reporters who cover them, I have my own way of doing things - a technique that has stood by me and got me out of there in safety for more than a decade.
Some reporters look completely conspicuous at funerals, walking into the church with their eyes wide open in fear, a notebook in one hand, a pen in the other. They stick out like a sore thumb, especially when they congregate together. Like sheep.
I usually dress down, maybe in a shirt and jeans, rather than a suit. I’m not trying to show any disrespect to anyone - it’s just that I don’t want to look like a reporter. Some of my colleague joke that my undercover outfit actually makes me look like a cop. All I need is a doughnut, but I’ve had too many of them so I’ll pass on that.
In the church, I try to hide in plain view. I ignore my colleagues, and they do the same to me. I walk in, trying not to show any hesitation. Without breaking my stride, I focus on one pew and head for it, as if I know the church really well.
Then I sit there, surrounded by other mourners for the duration of the funeral mass. I have a small digital Dictaphone in my hand, which I turn on just before I enter the church. It stays on until I leave the church, usually at communion. With luck, nobody even notices me. Job done.
But the funeral of Patrick Eugene Holland was no normal funeral. And I was extremely nervous as I opened the door of St. Joseph’s Church in Bonnybrook, Coolock, north Dublin at 10.40am on Monday.
There were two main reasons for my trepidation.
I like to think that I’m anonymous, that nobody knows me. I’m not one of these high profile reporters whose name and photographs are everywhere. I don’t really do television, so I always think that I can walk down any street and nobody would recognise me.
But I received a phone call a few minutes before the funeral was about to begin. It let me know there was a problem. Photographers Mick O’Neill and Jim Walpole had both been assigned to cover the funeral. They had taken up positions in different areas, ready to shoot anyone who went in to the church. As I stood in the park, getting ready to go into the church, Mick rang me. He told me that some men who I really did not want to be there had just walked into the church.
Each of them would recognise me and each of them would be far from happy when they saw me.
Then there was the rest of the mourners. We knew it was going to be a small funeral, but not that small. There were only around 50 mourners - the church could easily hold 400. I knew there would be nowhere for me to hide.
But I knew I couldn’t stay away. The story was too big and there were at least three other reporters inside. I couldn’t let them get the scoop and go back empty handed to the office. Fear is a great motivator and I’m more afraid of failure than than I am of most criminals.
So I entered the church.
It went wrong as soon as I got to the door. It opened well enough, but when I tried to let it close smoothly (and quietly) behind me, it became stuck. I then spent what felt like hours trying to pull it closed.
When I turned around and faced the congregation, several people were staring at me - including the men who did not want me there. I felt their eyes boring into me.
But I’d come too far to stop. I started walking, heading to my right where a sea of pews awaited me. Like before, I tried to show no hesitation. I told myself when I was going in to turn right and that’s just what I did. The only problem was that the aisle I picked was empty; I was literally the only person on that side of the church. I thought, briefly, of stopping and heading to the centre aisle where most mourner were sitting. But I immediately ruled that out: it would have been far too conspicuous.
I picked a pew, genuflected, and sat down, glancing down at the Dictaphone hidden in my hands to make sure the red recording light was glowing red.
Fr Kevin Moore delivered a fine sermon.
Dutchy Holland was someone whom I interviewed in the Rome apartment of his lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano in April 2007. He was an immensely personable, likeable even, man.
Me interviewing Dutchy Holland in Rome. Copyright Irish Daily Star
I had a good chat with him for about an hour and it was only at the end that I knew he was a killer. I asked him if he had, as gardai are satisfied, killed Veronica Guerin. He replied simply: “No. No way.” But I could tell he was lying. He hadn’t even managed to convince himself he was innocent. So he’ll be remembered as the man who shot dead an Irish crime reporter to most people.
But not to his family.
As Fr Kevin said, they remember a loving, caring uncle and granduncle.
“Patrick’s instincts were always to be helpful to others,” he said.
“He enjoyed swimming and in his younger days saved a person from drowning by jumping in to save him.
“They recall the person that they knew and the good home and background from which he came.
“The fondness that they always had for him will linger on.”
Dutchy was loved by some people.
Just as we sat down after a Hail Mary, I felt my mobile phone vibrate in my pocket.
Because I was at the funeral and was trying to keep my head down, I was not going to answer it. But something, perhaps a sixth sense, made me take it out of my jeans pocket.
I looked at the message and froze.
It was from another reporter in the church. It simply said: “X and X have clocked you and look angry.”
I put the phone back in my pocket, considered things for a millisecond and got up. There's no point in being a hero. Anyway, I had gotten what I went there for, the priest's sermon. Time to get out of dodge.
I left the pew, genuflected and walked calmly, but quickly, out of the church.
I didn’t look back until I was out of the church grounds. Then I snatched a quick glance to see if anyone had followed me out. There was nobody there.
I had parked my car about 500 metres away and made sure no-one was following me before I got into it and drove off.
It was only when I was about a mile away that I finally relaxed.
I knew I was safe. Until next time.