3 July 2010


We buried him in an isolated rural cemetery that is known locally as "The Island" - probably because that little hummock of a hill was once surrounded by swampy ground. As is the tradition, only male family members carried the coffin. Feeling his weight on my right shoulder was a wonderful discomfort.

He had known each of the gravediggers. They had prepared a hole some five feet deep, snug against the limestone boundary wall with a huge pile of Clare soil beside it in what has been one of western Ireland's driest years.

Ned Crosby, the priest, who also knew Paul personally, said the customary religious words by the grave. And then everybody applauded my dead brother. By the stunted hawthorn bush where an ancient chapel once stood, musicians played familiar tunes on fiddles, concertinas and pipes with Paul's daughter, Katie, accompanying on her wooden flute.

All was quiet and then an old friend called Michael stood on a rock with his chin raised slightly to the sky and with great passion recited in Irish Gaelic a famous poem called "Pearse's Lament". Roughly translated, it begins:-

Grief on the death, it has blackened my heart:
lt has snatched my love and left me desolate,
Without friend or companion under the roof of my house
But this sorrow in the midst of me, and I keening.

As I walked the mountain in the evening
The birds spoke to me sorrowfully,
The sweet snipe spoke and the voiceful curlew
Relating to me that my darling was dead.

At the end Michael wove in some few Spanish words which connected Ireland's freedom struggle with the battles of Spanish republicans before the second world war - "Viva la quinta brigada! No passaran! Adelante!"

People began to drift away. Some stood amongst the graves exchanging thoughts about Paul. I took a handful of earth from the pile and threw it on top of his coffin. Soon the gravediggers removed the flowers and began their timeless task, quietly filling in the hole where Paul will rest forever - well not really Paul but his human remains - that same wax model I reflected on in "Hands".

It was the best of days and the worst of days. Has there ever been a more beautiful funeral? I doubt it. I was filled with pride for my lost brother who was so loved by the people of Clare - the old and the young, rich and poor, intellectual and moronic, pub landlords and priests. Although he was only sixty two, he lived his life to the full with such goodness in his soul. By far, I am not the only one who will never forget him.


  1. Your sadness and loss is palatable! I am weeping.

    Funeral Blues

    by W. H. Auden

    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
    Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
    Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
    He was my North, my South, my East and West,
    My working week and my Sunday rest,
    My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
    I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
    The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
    For nothing now can ever come to any good.

  2. MOUNTAIN THYME Thank you for your weeping and thank you for reminding me of Auden's poem about death but "nothing now can ever come to any good" - that's wrong. The message of Paul's death must be - Live! Live it all to the full!

  3. YP at the death of my dearly beloved brother I took comfort in this poem sent to me by a priest.May I share it with you & your grieving family.Take care.

    Death is nothing at all.
    I have only slipped away to the next room.
    I am I and you are you.
    Whatever we were to each other,
    That, we still are.

    Call me by my old familiar name.
    Speak to me in the easy way
    which you always used.
    Put no difference into your tone.
    Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

    Laugh as we always laughed
    at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
    Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
    Let my name be ever the household word
    that it always was.
    Let it be spoken without effect.
    Without the trace of a shadow on it.

    Life means all that it ever meant.
    It is the same that it ever was.
    There is absolute unbroken continuity.
    Why should I be out of mind
    because I am out of sight?

    I am but waiting for you.
    For an interval.
    Somewhere. Very near.
    Just around the corner.

    All is well.

    By Henry Scott Holland

  4. My thoughts are with you and your family, YP and I am pleased that all went well.

  5. Elizabeth4:36 pm

    YP,that sounds as though it was the most incredibly, beautiful funeral service I can imagine. Ordinary people whose lives had been touched by Paul's,expressing their love of him in whatever way was most appropriate to them as individuals,be it in recitation, playing an instrument or digging a grave. In my mind, this is how all funerals should be - but very few are - Paul was priviledged and honoured to be surrounded by so much love. You are right to be proud of your brother, who had made such an impression on this community - and the mark he made there is indelible; it will be there for ever.

    The photographs you've taken are wonderful records of love in action - I'm so pleased you took them.

    I know exactly what you mean about the 'wonderful discomfort' of the weight of Paul's coffin on my shoulder; I remember feeling much the same when I carried my daughter's coffin.I also echo and endorse what you say that the message coming from Paul's funeral must be, 'Live life to the full'.

    Let me tell you a little story. I am vehemently opposed to 'family flowers only' funerals and was determined that there should be no such strictures when my daughter died.The usual fancy arrangements arrived with notes of sympathy, but left in the chapel porch was a small posy of violets without any note. Every year, without fail, for the last thirteen years, a posy of violets has been put on my daughter's grave on the anniversary of her death. I have never found out who they are from. We don't know whose lives we touch on this earth and what impact we have there ... xx

  6. Elizabeth4:47 pm

    Apologies; 'my' should, of course, be 'yours'.

  7. JEAN I've seen that poem before but long ago. Thank you for reminding me of it. It is certainly very apposite.
    JENNY You know better than most how if feels to lose someone before their time was truly up. Thank you.
    ELIZABETH I didn't realise you had lost a daughter. The annual mystery posy is something I wouldn't wish to unravel. It's too lovely for that. Thank you for all your kind words in recent days. Much appreciated.

  8. A beautiful and moving piece. Participating in a service like this- whether as a casket bearer, a grave digger, or a speaker, is a powerful and healing thing!
    May I have permission to re-post this on my blog- www.dailyundertaker.com ?
    It would be of great value to my readers.
    My thoughts and prayers are with your family. Take care

  9. PATRICK McNALLY With a name like that how could I refuse your request? Go ahead Paddy - re-post. Love to Wisconsin.

  10. Thank you so much!

  11. So many people are part of our lives. When someone leaves this life, they leave bits of themselves in everyone they knew. It's as though we write on other people's pages and they write on ours.

    Thank you YP, for reminding me of the people I remember.

    Fond regards from me.


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