Funerals are by their very nature sad occasions. They are at once private yet public events. Nowhere is this more evident than in the funeral of prominent figures where family grief is overlaid with the public mourning for one admired or remembered with fondness within his or her community.
My father was a great attender of funerals. In his case it was a measure of his neighbourliness, his respect for the people with whom he came in contact in his daily life. I haven’t been able to quite match his assiduous funeral attendance record but nevertheless a week seldom goes by without the opportunity to walk behind a hearse as it makes its slow progress to one of the local cemeteries.
Last week I attended the funeral of a man whom I had met but on a few occasions. One of those was when he called to give me a work manual for agricultural machinery which he and his workmates had used during their time in Duthie Larges. Jimmy Kenny was a very quiet man who came to Athy over 60 years ago when his father took up a job as a steward for Telfords of Barrowford. Jimmy married a local girl Jo Pender in 1958 and they had four daughters, all of whom in one way or another played a significant part in making his funeral Mass last week a wonderfully memorable occasion. I cannot recall a funeral in St. Michael’s Church or indeed any other Church which was marked with such considered dignity and unabashed filial love and devotion. It was a most moving experience as Jimmy’s family paid their last respects to a much loved husband and father.
The offertory procession gave Jimmy’s grandchildren the opportunity to play their part. Each in turn brought to the altar an item symbolising an element of the life which had departed just days before. Tools, a symbol of Jimmy’s work and skill as a mechanic, a model car highlighting his fondness for cars, a football and a County Kildare jersey befitting a man who was a follower and a supporter of his adopted county’s involvement in our national game. His cap, which he was never without, music which he nurtured and encouraged in his children, and flowers including two peace lillies which Jimmy had grown in his own garden. The final gift was a photograph of his youngest grandchild carried to the altar by his daughter Siobhan and her husband Glen, before Eileen, the eldest of the four daughters, read a poem written by Jimmy and Jo which they had entitled “Our Four Girls”. To those who knew Jimmy Kenny well undoubtedly these were emotional moments as the dignified procession of personal items made their appearance one by one, accompanied by the commentary of his eldest daughter Eileen.
Later as the Mass progressed the Church was filled with the haunting words and melody of a song composed and sung by Eileen. Her voice, beautiful in its intonation and clarity, was that of an angel’s. Seldom have I heard anyone sing so sweetly, yet so powerfully, and the words which reverberated around the Church were those written by a first child for a much loved father.
There is a treasure in my heart
It is your smile and warm embrace
There is a memory I will keep
It is the picture of your face
No more suffering, no more pain
The angels wings will bring you home
Now as you journey to the light
You are forever in my sight
So fly spirit, fly so high
Reach out for god and you will find
That he is there and you will see
He’ll hold you close
And keep you safe for me
Your life with us was full of love
Your beauty came from god above
And now you reach out for his grace
Reach and touch that sacred space
At the conclusion of the Mass daughters Mary and Geraldine stepped up to the sanctuary where Mary played on the accordion the opening chords of a song composed by Phil Coulter and popularised by the Furey Brothers “The Old Man”. Geraldine sang to her sisters plaintive accompaniment the words slightly adopted to suit the sad occasion.
“The tears have all been shed now
We have said the last goodbye
His soul has been blessed
He is laid to rest
And now we feel alone
He was more than just a father
Our teacher, our best friend
And he will still be heard in the tunes we share
As we gather on our own.”
It was a fitting conclusion to a memorial service which was a celebration of a life and a tribute to that life which onlookers like myself found emotionally charged yet enchanting and spiritually uplifting.
Jimmy Kenny’s family did him proud.