Thirty nine years ago on Wednesday, 17th November a young man died in a road traffic accident on the Dublin Road, just a few miles from his home in Offaly Street. He was my younger brother, Seamus. Last Sunday while I was attending Mass in St. Michael’s Parish Church I realised that this year the date and day of his death coincide as they did in 1965.
I was living in Dublin then, while attending a Post Graduate course in the School of Public Administration in Landsdowne Road to where I had been sent by the Kildare County Manager, Matthew Macken. I had previously attended night classes in University College Dublin and graduated with a B. Comm. and because of this was chosen as the first County Council official outside of Dublin to attend the School of Public Administration. It was an exciting time, even for a mature student as I then was, attending full time lectures while drawing a salary from Kildare County Council. For the first time in my life I had the time, the leisure and unlike most other full time students, the means, to indulge my interest in literature and history. In those days “digs” were the mainstay of life away from the family home and I had changed from lodgings in Naas to lodgings with an elderly woman living in Rialto. A second hand bicycle bought in Birds of Portobello provided me with the means of getting around the city and the daily journey along the Canal to Landsdowne Road was both invigorating and undoubtedly healthy.
I recall that on the previous Sunday, 14th November the A.G.M. of the Catholic Young Mens Society [known to all and sundry as the C.Y.M.S.] was held in Athy and as Honorary Secretary my brother Seamus presented his report. I remember having an argument with him on the morning of the A.G.M. after my unsought advice on something or other to do with his report was rejected. I returned to Dublin that evening and on the Wednesday evening I attended a debate in the Landsdowne Road headquarters of the School of Public Administration. I got back to the digs at about ten o’clock or so and was lying on my bed reading a copy of Flann O’Brien’s “At swim two birds” when a knock came to the front door. It was Fr. Larry Redmond, the senior curate of Monkstown Parish Church and former curate in Athy, whose housekeeper Mary Murphy had arranged the digs for me with an old friend in Rialto.
There had been an accident in which my brother Seamus was involved earlier that evening and several attempts had been made to contact me. Nobody knew the address where I lived, there was no phone in the house and repeated phone calls to the School of Public Administration went unanswered, despite the fact that with my fellow students I had spent the evening on the premises. Eventually a couple of friends including Teddy Kelly and Ted Wynne drove to Dublin and called on another school pal, Seamus Ryan, who in turn phoned Fr. Redmond to enquire if he knew where I could be contacted. Fr. Redmond’s housekeeper, Mary Murphy, knew where I lived and Fr. Redmond drove across the city to make contact with me and to break the tragic news.
I remember travelling home later that night with the lads I had grown up with in Athy and who had been my friends since our school days in the Christian Brothers. It was a sad journey and as the car rounded the bend at Ardscull, the scene of the accident came into view. The car in which Seamus had been a front seat passenger, a Morris Minor, was lying at the side of the road. We passed on and the enormity of what happened only became apparent when I walked into the living room of our home in Offaly Street. All of the family were there. I was last to arrive, my mother crying the tears of a mother smothered in grief, my father deeply saddened, yet showing the strength which would protect and shield his family in the days to come.
This was the first time death had visited our home in Offaly Street and the tragedy and sadness of parents mourning the loss of a son added a sense of unreality to what was already an unreal situation.
Thirty nine years later the pain has eased and my mother and father who shared the sadness and grief known only to parents, have passed on. Time certainly heals but the scars always remain and I can still vividly recall the anguish of my mother who would never forget the enormous void created by the loss of her youngest child. For in memory, he was always a child, the one who unlike his four brothers, stayed at home in Athy to live with his parents. Seamus who worked in the local Asbestos factory was known as “Sos” to his friends and had a most friendly disposition. I gather the night before he died he had won some money at a card game in the Golf Club and as himself and Teddy Kelly took a lift in Aiden Gleeson’s new car as far as Dallon’s Corner after work on that Wednesday, Teddy as one of the losers was thanked for his financial “contribution” to what was to be a night out in Dublin.
Seamus set out with some friends to travel to Dublin but within half an hour of finishing work and just outside Athy his life was extinguished. The horror of that night was not yet finished as my father, then in the penultimate year of his service in the Gardai was called out to the scene. It was a task he had undertaken on several previous occasions and I can recall him bringing back to our home for a cup of tea and words of consolation motorists who over the years had the misfortune to be involved in fatal road traffic accidents. Accustomed as he was to road traffic scenes I cannot imagine how he felt when he sought to check the identity of the body lying on the side of the road after the injured had been transferred by ambulance to hospital. When the covering on the body was raised he discovered to his horror that his youngest son was lying dead on the road.
On Wednesday, 17th November 1965 life came to a standstill for one family in Offaly Street. Thirty nine years later I sit here wondering what the future might have held for Seamus Taaffe had he lived out the expectations which his parents had nurtured during the 21 years of his short life.