Thursday, February 5, 1998

Funerals in Cork and Athy

I attended a funeral in Doneraile, Co. Cork quite recently and came away marvelling at the dignity and respect with which the entire local community remembered one of their own. In many ways a Cork funeral and a Kildare funeral are much the same. The differences are minimal but it was those differences which served to heighten my awareness of how well the dead are remembered in the rebel county.

The removal to the local Church was at 8.30pm in the evening, a time best suited to the needs of local farmers and factory workers alike. The turnout was quite staggering and everyone in attendance was there for the duration of the ceremony. Contrast that with the arrangements in our own town when funerals are timed to pass down our main street at any time between 6.00pm and 6.30pm.

Workers from shops, factories and offices are coming out of their workplace just before our local funerals start. There is no time to touch base with home. The slow paced journey to the Church impedes traffic coming from both directions at a period which must be regarded as bordering on peak traffic time. The entire proceedings are unsatisfactory in terms of timing and the lesson of the County Cork funeral confirmed for me the benefits of a later evening removal to the Church.

It was the funeral the following day which brought home to me the closeness of community life in rural County Cork. There the priest spoke in eloquent and moving terms of the deceased, touching on his involvement in the community and particularly the local GAA Club. The ancient graveyard was over two miles away as the hired hearse moved slowly ahead of the mourners. It was empty and before it walked a solitary piper who struck up “The Flowers of the Forest” as he commenced the slow trek from the Churchyard. Relays of broad shouldered men took it in turns to carry their coffined neighbour towards his final resting place. It was late in the afternoon when the funeral reached the gate of the cemetery, just as the piper was playing the last notes of “When the Battles’ Over”. Neighbours and friends stood around the opened grave encircling the deceased’s family and relatives, almost as in a friendly protective cocoon. Prayers were said and blessed waters scattered before the proceedings were brought to an end. The crowd stood around talking, sharing thoughts, remembering experiences and enlivening a sad day with the shared words with which a community honours a departed friend.

What a lovely gesture it was to carry the coffin of their neighbour all the way from the Church to his grave. The gesture spoke volumes for the intensity of the community feeling in rural Cork and the honour which is paid to the dead of that County.

I had intended to start this week by mentioning a number of queries which I had received in recent times and which remain unanswered. The first is from George O’Gorman writing from Drogheda whose father, a local Bank Manager, was mentioned by me in a recent article on the local library. George is trying to get information on Cobham’s Flying Circus which visited Athy sometime in the 1930’s. Alan Cobham brought a plane to Athy in which he gave joyrides to those brave or foolish enough to take to the air in his flying machine. George went aloft that day and now boasts that he was the first of the O’Gorman Clan to do so. I have a copy of a photograph taken in or around 1937 which shows a number of local men standing against the backdrop of an aeroplane which was in Athy, for what reason I do not know. Those in the photograph included Paddy O’Rourke, saddler of Stanhope Street, Frank O’Brien of Emily Square, Jimmy Bennett of Janeville, Joe Reynolds of Leinster Street and Pearl and Jim May. I have also come across a reference in the local Christian Brothers’ annals to October 4th, 1931 when a sports and drill display was held in the Showgrounds to which 250 school boys paraded from the school. An aeroplane from Iona National Airways was hired for the day to give joyrides over Athy and this may possibly have been the first occasion on which an aeroplane was seen in Athy. I wonder was it also the occasion George O’Gorman first took to the air.

George mentioned a wonderful story concerning Fr. Kinnane, a local curate who lived in a beautiful thatched house, now demolished, which stood opposite St. Martin’s Terrace. George’s father helped Fr. Kinnane to count the “takings” after the annual mission in the Church and usually did so at the curate’s kitchen table over which hung an old fashioned fly paper, festooned with flies and bluebottles. Fr. Kinnane who wore a wig, but thought nobody was aware of the fact, stood up from the table, brushed against the fly paper, and walked away leaving his wig suspended from the ceiling. The Bank Manager was too embarrassed to draw attention to what had happened and contrived to leave the room before the curate returned.

Returning to George’s query if anyone knows the month and year when Cobham’s Flying Circus came to Athy I would like to hear from them.

Another query, this time centering on Tony Ross who sailed into Halifax, Nova Scotia on 19th January, 1957 and who declares to the world on the Internet that he is a native of Athy of “Johnny I Hardly Knew You” fame. Does anybody know anything of Tony Ross - if so, please contact me.

The final query comes from Steve Allen writing from Australia who wants to trace his Great Grandmother’s people. Her name was Mary Ann Prendergast whose sisters were Catherine Prendergast and Ellen Mary Prendergast. Apparently Mary Ann married Patrick Lambert in 1882 and shortly afterwards they emigrated to Australia. Her parents were Patrick Prendergast and Catherine Rickard. Does anyone know anything of the families involved. If so, perhaps you would contact me so that all the appropriate information can be forwarded to Steve Allen in Australia.

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