My Eulogy for My Mother, Mary Quinlan, 1917 - 2013
This short eulogy fits in here in this blog because it is very much written from the soul. My brothers and I sat by her bedside from 05:30 until 00:05, that is for her last eighteen hours and thirty five minutes of earthly existence. She seemed to have "given up the ghost" when her breathing stopped at 22:05 on Monday 15th July. However, when the Doctor in attendance arrived she declared, having examined her, that she could not pronounce her dead as her heart was still strongly beating. In the end, she was declared dead at 00:05 on Tuesday16th July. A deeply devout Catholic friend declared that he was in no way surprised at this, adding that my mother obviously wished to die on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Now, as you will read in the tribute below, my mother had spent some15 years leading the Rosary in her local church which at that stage had been run by Carmelite priests - O. Carm. If one is a Catholic believer one would call thing providence; if an agnostic, a coincidence, or a New Age believer a God-incidence. Be that as it may, here follows my eulogy for my mother in full, together with a poem I wrote for her:
2. I would also like to thank Fr Gerry for his gentle, sensitive and prayerful handling of the whole funeral service. Thanks, as well, to the choir for the lovely fitting music.
3. I would also like to invite everyone, back to Parnell’s Club, now called The Chanel for a light meal. My mother would have wished that her life would be fittingly celebrated with old memories and fun shared over a meal!
4. Mary had a long and happy life of 96 years and three months. While not an English scholar at all she liked to say that she was born on Shakespeare’s birthday, the 23 rd of April. In her case the year was 1917. If Mary’s life were a book it would contain three chapters:
5. The First chapter would be entitled: “The Crumlin Years: Hard Work and Music.” My mother was the second eldest of 12 siblings, and as the eldest girl she performed the role of mother to many of her younger brothers and sisters. In those days much responsibility fell to the eldest girl in any family, more so in one so large. A committed and diligent work regime was instilled into her from her earliest years, and caring was the core of her very existence from the beginning – this was never to change. She was a wonderful home-keeper, organiser, cook, carer, dress-maker, knitter – all the usual skills and competencies associated with the traditional Irish woman of that era. In hindsight she would have been imbued with all these values and skills by her own mother, Phoebe St Ledger, who was a convert from the Church of Ireland. The Brophy home was a happy and caring home where Irish traditional Irish music was part of its very fabric with all the notables of traditional music, like Seamus Ennis visiting there because her father was a well-regarded exponent of the uilleann pipes and a marvellous reed maker. I remember her telling me that when she was very young she and her siblings would follow my grandfather in line around the fields as he played the bag and chanter of his uilleann pipes. This is chapter one, and it ends in 1954, I think, when all her siblings were reared and married and she herself married my father Thomas Quinlan.
6. And so chapter 2 may be called “Roscrea and Dublin.” In 1954 at the age of 36/7 she moved to Roscrea, the hometown of my father where we were all born. Crises were never far away, but in her case they were all grist to the mill. The first house was burned down, I believe, but luckily the alarm was raised and no harm done. Then in the early sixties my father Tom got polio in the then countrywide polio epidemic. Luckily he came through that with just the loss of the use of one arm and was happily able to work for the rest of his life. However, Mary never lamented any misfortune ever as troubles were simply something you dealt with, and never ever given into. My father’s convalescence and his new work necessitated a move back to Dublin in 1964. All these years, which were hard at times, were in general happy ones for her and her family. Typical of her, she found herself a job to supplement the family income as the housekeeper for an old gentleman in Ballsbridge, which she continued with until she was a young 70. Hard work was always part of her nature. Having retired, she became a daily mass-goer in this Church which became the hub of her daily existence as she proudly led the rosary here every morning for the last fifteen or so years of her active life, and during this time was a loyal member of the over-fifties group.
7. Chapter 3 may be termed “The Long Good Bye.” At 84, while still active, she had a mild stroke which unfortunately was the beginnings of dementia which she would live with for the last 12 and half years, with 11 or so of those spent in the care of the wonderful staff of St Mary’s hospital. The first several years had their funny moments with Mary thinking the other patients were her brothers and sisters – indeed she called them by their names – and used to tuck them in at night before she went to bed herself. However, dementia is no kind friend, and it diminishes the memory bit by inevitable bit, but thankfully she was always very happy in her surroundings and was constantly smiling, an ability she retained to the very end when speech was no longer possible. She was able to smile for us before her passing.
8. Her two most prominent characteristics were her gentleness and her total non-judgement of others.
9. I’ll finish with a poem which may sum her up better than these above more prosaic words:
A Poem for Mother
Your love was the shade of a tree on a scorching day,
A summer shower refreshing our parched clay,
A strong hand that lifted child from harm’s way,
Your face a sun that warmed our every day.
And yet not much was said
For all was done and every child was fed
And every plant was nurtured to its flower
As years rolled by beyond our power.
And now there are no words that we can say,
No rhymes to capture life’s decay,
The fall of leaf, the burden of dismay,
And yet there is a solace in the season’s turn:
Ripe fruit must fall to earth
To bring new life to birth
And so inevitable it must be,
The parting wave, the final smile, the stinging tear,
The mystery of the turn in every year.
And now we dwell in the comfort of your great love,
Your long life’s work, no task left undone –
Let us celebrate its length of years
And the joys that far outnumbered all our tears.
RIP, Mary and may the light of the heavens shine upon you!