He died on 1st October 2016 exactly 98 years and six months after he was born on 31st March 1918, 10 days after the German Spring Offensive had started on 21st March 1918 and they were hammering at the gates of Amiens demanding to be let in. Actions on that 31st March could be classed as the catalyst that started the end of the Great War. The Germans ran out of steam, munitions, fuel, men, aircraft and all the other apparatus that make for a successful military victory. They made their first backward step and never stop back-pedaling until 32 weeks later and after much unnecessary killing, they signed the Armistice Agreement with the Allied Powers.
I would like to think that my father’s premature appearance into this world, all 2lb 2oz of him, scared the bejasus out of those confident German soldiers and sent them scuttling back from whence they came in relatively quick time.
That was the first time he had put the fear of God into the those Frankish men, the second was 22 years later, fresh out of his electronic engineering apprenticeship at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park in Manchester, where he helped in the development of a radar system used in the home defence of the UK.
In a way I was glad to see him die, his quality of life was non-existent. For at least three months before his death he could neither see, speak, hear, stand and was incontinent. He epitomised living death.
Our relationship was never easy. He came from a generation that had been moulded into privation with the effects of the Great War and the hardships of WW2 and its aftermath. A whole generation chiselled into conformity, lateral thinking not being part of the equation. We, the original baby boomers, had not been enchained. We had obviously been weaned on deprivation in the 1950s but we had been baptised in the “They have never had it so good” 1960s. We were free spirits not encumbered by class, creed or civic need. We changed employment on a whim, we travelled, we were never reined in. My father could not understand my dilletantish outlook on life and I was not willing to be restrained by his conservatism. What I think we both had when it came to “Hey lads Hey” was an innate respect for each other. There are numerous examples throughout our lives but this is not the place for them.
Early on the 17th October I boarded a plane at Dublin Airport; in England after death, the authorities like to linger over cadavers before allowing release, because it gives work to so many people. Here in Ireland, as in Jewland and Muslimland, they like to dispose of deadness quickly. I was picked up by Daughter 3 as rush hour was biting on Princess Parkway and after a much needed breakfast, met my younger brother Michael, signed my name on some legal documents and spent the next few hours in reflective idleness, thinking of things yet to come.
We arrived at the Little Sisters of the Poor Nursing Home on Plymouth Grove at 4.30pm, the place where my father comfortably spent the last few years of his life, in “his silent period” the priest said in his later panygeric. I realised the priest did not know him that well, as my father was never one to say too much. We were there for the simple ceremony of receiving his body into church. In this case the spacious chapel where the whole panopoly of religious events are displayed for the aging population of the Home on a daily basis by the three retired clerics who are resident there. It strikes me that with the withdrawal of religion from most people’s lives, this home as pleasant as it is, is not just in the dying business but is also a dying business structure. I noticed immediately the name of one of my nemeses on the wall. The so called Bishop Geoffrey Burke’s name, who it seems opened the chapel in 1997, was displayed on a plaque on the wall at the side of the altar. What he knew and hid from the people of the Salford Diocese regarding the nefarious practises of Thomas Duggan of St Bede’s College in Manchester, does not bear thinking about.
Assembled outside the entrance to the Home were old friends and not so friendly people, relatives I had not seen in ages and immediate family, some not looking their best, trying to ignore me in their own special and inimitable way. There were also faces I could not put a name to but faces none the less. I was a nominated pallbearer along with my brother Michael, a cousin, two nephews and an old work mate I’d known for 65 years, who stepped in when my other brother declined because of his declining physical state. I was surprised how light the coffin and its contents were but I had seen my father’s emaciated state only weeks before and should have realised.
We delivered the coffin to the altar and went through the rigmarole of the Catholic service delivered by a decent, if physically senile priest who looked as though he had just returned from a few weeks in a very warm climate. The service was followed by unfathomable incantations from the in-house nunnery which lasted far longer than was decent. It was over for the day and we stepped out into sunshine and I noticed how the assembled I knew were stepping over each other to remain at least arm’s length away to avoid shaking hands. Myself and daughter 3 skedaddled back to her house and had a glass or two of wine to contemplate on proceedings and prepare ourselves for the ordeal of the morrow.
Up early and a delicious Jewish breakfast of eggs, vegetables and spices cooked by the master of the house and we were back at the chapel at 10.30am with the same people sitting outside on the same benches, smoking away, slowly killing themselves and looking for all the world as though they had performed the vigil from the night before.
The Requiem Mass followed at 11.00am and it left me amazed. I had been 10 years away from this scene, 10 years away from the man-made construct which is the Catholic Church. In that time we have all been made aware of the disgraceful behaviour of some of the men of God, priests of the Church. We have all been faced with the consumate disregard successive Popes and bishops have for the Catholic population in their charge. Yet the present Catholics ie those that were there that morning have ignored all the evidence put in front of them and still join in and mumble, meaningless to them, the prayers ordered by their priests. Holding them in awe as of previous years, dipping their fingers in so called holy water at the numerous fonts, standing, sitting and kneeling at the drop of a hat to rituals done out of habit because that is how the Church has taught them. Do as I say and do not think is the mantra from the clerics as they persist in this holier than thou nonsense. It horrifies me to think I was of a mind with them once but I am glad I am where I am and not where they are, automatons going through motions as though hypnotised. At least I have seen through the scam.
The same six lifted the coffin and delivered it to the hearse and off for one more ritual at Moston Cemetery in North Manchester. The north inner city of Manchester took the brunt of the immigrant detrita washed up on English shores in the 19th century. Driving past thousands of graves, all with Irish names, you could believe you were in any cemetery in the island of Ireland. There were also enclaves of other immigrants that hit Manchester in that century, Italians in the latter stages of the century and Slavs disrupted by genocide in Europe during the first half of the 20th century, being buried in the same ghettos as which they lived. However the vast majority were Irish who started to escape the deprivation of their own land after the Famine, to live and work in the deprivation of North Manchester and breed a generation or two of which I am proud to be a part.
Michael, my younger brother, who bore the brunt of my father’s last days and organised the whole of the ceremonies we had attended and weaved his way through the political and legal minefield that is finding an appropriate grave in an overcrowded necropolis, had done a great job. My father was put in a grave with my mother who had been killed in 1988 along with a child of my uncle’s second wife and my mother’s twin sister who had died young of illness in 1961. My father was that close to the surface that if his nose was as long as Pinocchio’s, visitors would have used it as a flower pot.
There were 50 or so mourners at the graveside all again doing their best in pretending that I did not exist but going about their religious rituals with all that their Christian bodies could give. The old priest did his best on that wind-swept hillside but I think frailty overcame ritual as I threw a sod at the coffin and they drenched the casket in waters holy, so they say, and the cleric scurried off to his warm but hired hearse.
I was on a plane that afternoon, glad to be away, back to my wife in Sligo Hospital who was due to be released the following day. A plate of dim sum beckoned from our favourite Chinese restaurant as the rest made their way to the local pub to continue the ritual that Christians have. I was back home in the West of Ireland as the mourning party finished its duties in the pub.
Thanks without a doubt are due to Michael, my brother, the maitre d’ of the whole show, who gave a great eulogy at the end of the requiem. John Heffernan who stepped into the breach when my other brother found himself unable. A great vote of thanks to the staff of the little sisters who formed the Guard of Honour as we carried my father out of the chapel. Other thanks are due also to a few fellows I worked with all those years ago, Hughie Cattigan, Shay Leonard and Sam Murray who turned up when there was no need, who all knew my father from his later years in our office and lastly but not leastly my Daughter 3 and her spouse for transporting me and putting up with my many rants.
Two weeks later on reflexion I am sad to see the deterioration in the health of my other brother. It is a lesson to be learnt by every male. Never grow old without a woman beside you, unless you are completely confident of your own abilities. Kevin obviously isn’t. And likewise I am still shaking my head at the complete and utter senselessness of the religiosity displayed by supposed intelligent people or am I giving them too much credit.
I am happy in the thought that none of that ilk or that ceremony will be attending my planned simple expiry service up on the Bricklieves and at Eastersnow. The first in Sligo, the second in Roscommon.