I was very impressed at the dignity and solemnity at the funeral of Otto von Hapsburg who died aged 94 years on July 4. Twelve days later he was entombed in the Imperial crypt of St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, with some pomp and ceremony; but his actual ‘ Three Knock’ burial was simplicity itself.
Otto von Hapsburg, also known by his royal name as Archduke Otto of Austria, was born in November 1912, the eldest son of Charles I, the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. Otto was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary at the dissolution of the empire in 1918, after World War I. And what a realm it was. It consisted of modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.
Otto, however, did not live in the past. He was active on the Austrian and European political stage from the 1930s, an early proponent of European integration. After the 1938 Anschluss, Otto lived for a period in the United States. As a newly elected Member of the European Parliament in 1979, he had an empty chair set up for the countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the European Parliament. A noted intellectual, he has published several books on historical and political affairs.
I was introduced to him while on a press trip to the Strasbourg parliament. I had to stop myself falling on my knees before this great potentate. But instead of meeting a man who reflected his Imperial provenance I met a smiling, gentle man, full of amusement, who asked questions about Galway.
He was of course a devout Catholic. In 1988 Pope John Paul II had just begun to speak to the parliament when that dreadful Rev Ian Paisley leapt to his feet shouting: “ I denounce you as the antiChrist.” Brave little Otto immediately leapt on Paisley and brought his crashing to the floor.