Stephen Gately’s grief-stricken bandmates tonight bore the coffin of their friend during an emotional homecoming to his working-class roots.
Boyzone’s Ronan Keating, Mikey Graham, Shane Lynch and Keith Duffy were pallbearers for the singer as they carried his remains into a city centre church.
Gately’s heartbroken parents Margaret and Martin were consoled by close family, his partner Andrew Cowles and Boyzone manager Louis Walsh, who paid respects at a private prayer vigil and wake in Dublin’s north inner city.
Hundreds of local people and fans lined streets near St Laurence O’Toole Church paying their own tribute to the West End star.
They blessed themselves and held candles as the coffin passed, before giving the local hero a round of applause.
The hearse was covered in a large spray of white lilies and three flower arrangements reading ‘Our Son’, ‘Our Steo’ and ‘Our Brother’. Resident Bernadette Manly said they had come out in support of Gately’s parents, brothers Mark, Alan and Tony and devoted sister Michelle.
“You couldn’t get better people,” said Mrs Manly.
The Boyzone members, who are spending the night in the church, will perform at his funeral Mass tomorrow. They earlier paid tribute to Gately and their fans as they brought his remains home from Majorca. Stood arm in arm they were truly overwhelmed at the support they received in the week since he died.
“The countless messages of love and support we have received this week have truly overwhelmed ourselves and the Gately family,” he said. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for each and every one of them.”
The weary looking bandmates have had discreet tattoos in honour of Gately, with the tribute “76 09″ clearly etched on Keating’s upper arm and Lynch’s hand.
It was the first time they have spoken publicly since the 33-year-old singer was found dead in his apartment last Saturday on the Spanish holiday island. Gately’s remains were flown home on a private plane with the remaining Boyzone members and Mr Cowles.
The singer’s body was brought to Jennings Funeral Directors in the Coolock area before being taken to Seville Place – a stone’s throw from where the singer played as a youngster.
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Gerry Fay, of North Wall Residents Association, said everyone in the area was still in disbelief. “When Stephen came home he was just Stephen, there was no big deal,” said Mr Fay.
“He wasn’t the Stephen they all talk about, he was just an ordinary person.”
Fans from as far away as Taiwan travelled to the Irish capital for the funeral. Wendy Lee spent £1,000 flying 7,875 miles to reach her idol’s hometown.
“I want to say my final goodbye,” said Miss Lee with tears in her eyes.
The 26-year-old, who says she has not eaten or slept since she heard the news of his death, added: “Stephen was my favourite. I don’t know why – he was just so lovely.”
Walsh has said family, friends and loved ones must celebrate Gately’s life. A funeral party catering for 450 invited guests will be held in the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel, Ballsbridge, on Saturday evening.
Old friends and neighbours stunned at the singer’s sudden death have spent several days cleaning the nearby church, its grounds and surrounding area to make the terrace streets shine for the return of their son.
He was found dead on the sofa in his apartment in Port Andratx after a night out with Mr Cowles and friend Georgi Dochev.
A post-mortem examination found he died from natural causes, the medical report recording pulmonary oedema or fluid on the lungs.
The 25-year-old, who had been friends with the singer since last summer, said his death has left him unstable.
“What happened that night is what happened. We know the autopsy results. He died a natural death,” said Mr Dochev. He said he has been comforting Mr Cowles during the week and admitted he has been nervous and stressed since the star’s untimely death.
“I’m really scared of falling asleep now in case I don’t wake up,” he added. Gately’s partner has asked that mourners make a donation to the Caudwell Children Charity, of which the pop star was an ambassador, instead of sending flowers.