Mid West Radio in Ireland has an obituaries page where people can write in and send their condolences for those lately dead. It always reminds me of the moment in mass, in the old days, when the priest would get up into the pulpit and read out the names of the sick and lately dead in the parish, and ‘those whose anniversaries occur about this time.’
I visit this page every morning, chiefly to read the names of places in Mayo where people have lived and died. The place names fascinate me for their musicality, and also because as a child at home in Lancashire I used to sit in the kitchen when my mother and my aunts were sat around the table talking about the home place. I would hear the names of places far away in the west and they became as familiar to me as the local towns and villages of my native Lancashire home.
Glencullen, my mammy’s home place, was accompanied by names such as Muinguinane, Cloontiakilla, Attawalla, Geesala, Dohooma, Doolough, Bellanaboy and many more exotic place names.
The people who lived in these places left them to seek their fortunes overseas in the UK or in America, but home was always in their heart wherever they went. In the old days the leaving was forever, never to return, but in our days returning home is easy, be it by road and rail or by flying into Mayo’s own airport at Knock. And the Internet now makes contact and communication both instant and easy.
Today I have read of the death in Glencullen of a man called Michael Mullarkey, or Michael Tom, as the locals would say. There is a list of condolences as long as your two arms and more in appreciation of this man, for his nature and his kindness. A cousin of mine, Padraig has written about ‘the great welcoming handshake extended to him whenever he visited the glen.’
Reading the list I thought of all the ways in which we honour people, of gold medals and OBEs and the queen tapping the shoulders with a sword as someone was knighted. Then I saw this list of names in a long scroll, all saying the same thing about the warmth and kindness of this man.
Better than any knighthood I would say, the words of affection and appreciation that are given to Michael Mullarkey. It is a testimony too, to the warmth of life that existed in the glen, in that quiet place unknown to most folk of the world. It is a testimony to good neighbourliness and of our need for one another.
I have a brother in law, a Mayo man, who said that sometimes reading the obituaries of people, the words are so wonderful about them that you wouldn’t recognise the person at all. Yes, it is true: none of us are perfect. We all have our flaws, but please God our goodness will outweigh them, and we all have time now to increase the kindness of our hearts.
24 October 2022