The following is the eulogy by Brian O'Connell from the funeral
Mass of his grandad, John O'Connell, Kinlea, Kilmurry McMahon. Co.Clare.
There's a poem by John Montague called ‘Like dolmens round my
childhood,' which has always reminded me of my Grandfather John and helped me understand his place not only in all our lives,
but also his place in the landscape here. In the poem John Montague talks about the impact the country characters of his childhood
had on him and how they shaped his life. He ends the poem by saying that for years these characters trespassed on his dreams,
"until once," he says, "in a standing circle of stones", he felt their shadows pass into what he calls
"that dark permanence of ancient forms." That final line, "that dark permanence of ancient forms" has
been going over in my mind in recent days, as we watched the shadows of neighbours, family and friends pass the window, or
gather in the hall together in centuries-old rituals to celebrate a life.
Born on Holy Thursday 1916, my Granda was in effect the same age as the Irish republic, lived through
two world wars, countless recessions, several waves of emigration, he saw the roll out of electrification and more recently
the digital revolution. I think actually had he lived for another few years, he might even have given in and bought an iPhone!
As it was, given the number of pictures posted online at various points this week by all his children and grandchildren, his
may have been, and Fr Tom might be able to confirm this, the first wake in Kinlea to be posted to Facebook?
I felt incredibly proud to be part of this extended family this past week.
I was incredibly proud of the way so many people contributed to Granda's life in recent years and ensured he could die the
way he wanted. Incredibly proud of the way all the generations came together, of the way the things that defined Granda's
life - a sense of purpose, kindness, gentleness, an instinct to do the right thing, an interest in and curiosity about family
connections and local histories - all these things I saw in the people gathered around Granda, as he lay in the house where
his parents, and grandparents and probably great grandparents, were born and also died.
I heard someone say about Granda's death the other night that there's a lot of history
gone with him. He was in effect a one-man genealogy service. Some people do the crosswords. Other do Sudoko. My Granda's mental
exercises were in being able to connect generations through their links to the land and the local area.
That image of a dolmen I mentioned earlier is very relevant when I think of
my Grandfather - a dolmen is something from the past that contains codes and information almost unrecognizable to modern society
and yet key to our understanding of it. Dolmens are durable, strong, upright and they're deep-rooted in the landscape. I think
we might all have been guilty of thinking our Granda would be here forever as a fixture on our collective landscapes.
Although, to be fair, he gave us enough verbal warnings he wouldn't. I would say probably from about the age of 10 or 11,
I can remember him and our grandmother, Rose, telling us they might not be around for too long.
That's almost three
And of course the longer he was around,
the longer we just assumed he would be around. A year ago I visited Granda in hospital, and afterwards on the way back to
Cork someone phoned and asked how was he. I remember saying to them that I thought he looked old. And reflecting on it afterwards,
I think it was the first time I'd ever said that about my Granda. He would have been 97 years old at that stage and really
I was only then seeing him as an old man. That's because I think that as the years went on, our Granda stood taller and taller
in our eyes. His stature increased, not diminished, and the pivotal role he played in our link to here and to who we were
and who we came from, became even more treasured and significant.
So this week has been a celebration, one by the way he would have loved, where there were tears of course,
but also singing and music and laughter and people who knew my grandfather for decades telling me how he helped them pull
a calf out of a ditch, or brave a frosty winter, or how he taught them to drive, or how they suddenly discovered a long lost
cousin thanks to him. It has been a celebration to mark the passing not only of our Grandfather, but also of a sacred torch
from one generation to the next in the O'Connell family. Those of us next in line have a duty to try and preserve and pass
on some of those virtuous qualities our grandparents had in abundance and gave to us by their example.
If we can set
as much as half the example they set for us, we won't be doing too badly at all.