The death of Paddy Hopkins at the age of 93 had completed the mosaic of his life, a mosaic that was made up of pieces that included good deeds, family devotion, suffering, joy, prayer and a commitment to the care and protection of the environment.
So said Fr Micheál Mac Gréil in his homily at the Funeral Mass of Paddy Hopkins, Slaugar and Rosbeg, Westport, in St Mary’s Church. He paid tribute to him for his great love of his family, his work to save Croagh Patrick from mining, his contribution to the development of Westport as a prime tourist resort, his wit and humour, his love of the sea ‘and when the end was evident he turned to God’.
The only gift symbolic of Paddy’s life that was brought to the altar was a family photograph depicting the value he gave to family and the love he gave to his own. Family members read the lessons and prayers of the faithful and in a post-Communion eulogy Paddy’s grandson Seán Randel gave the following resuméof his life:
“Patrick Hopkins was born to Agnes and Peter Hopkins in April 1920, the second oldest of nine children.
He grew up in a small house in [Rosbeg], which is well known to us all now as the Sheebeen, and therefore remained a part of his life and that of his family to this day. His childhood was very happy and he remembered it in great detail, frequently entertaining his family and friends with stories from his past.
When Paddy was young Rosbeg was full of children and he remembered it as a magical place to grow up. He loved to tell us about having races on top of the sea wall - apparently he only fell off once, luckily when the tide was in! They also used to roll down the hill behind the Sheebeen curled up into tractor tyres and played football in the road as there were hardly any cars in those days.
One of Paddy’s earliest memories was from 1922, when he saw the Navy bringing 400 Free State soldiers into Westport to take back the town from the anti-treaty forces. He often recounted the tale of their stopping at the Sheebeen and never forgot the fear he felt upon seeing their rifles.
However, despite Paddy’s love of recounting tales from the past, he was a great advocate of progress throughout his life, both in his personal life and for Westport. He embraced email, the internet and texting at a ripe age, and never ceased to be delighted by the good prices that could be obtained on Ryanair flights from Knock Airport. He also took great delight in all the improvements around the town especially the opening of the Greenway.
The son of the harbour pilot, Paddy grew up loving boats and sailing, the sea and the strand, and frequently went shooting and fishing with his father. When he and his father visited the islanders in Clew Bay they would be given a large meal in each house, including unforgettable eggs that tasted of fish!
Paddy’s love of boats continued throughout his life. After retiring to Westport, he bought a boat, Doolick, on which he had many trips with his wife Maureen, during which they would watch dolphins and the occasional basking shark, and from which he would pull Maureen along behind in a rubber ring. They had many adventures together, exploring the islands of the bay and weathering a few storms along the way.
And when one of his grandsons Conor expressed a desire to learn to sail, Paddy decided, at the age of 89, that he would build him a boat. This labour of love was completed just a few weeks ago when Paddy made the final fittings. This boat now feels like part of the family, which is why it is here today to lead the funeral cortege.
Paddy went to England during the war, but to his everlasting disappointment, was not allowed to fly planes due to a shadow on his lung caused by a bout of pleurisy. He became a quantity surveyor and built the runways instead.
However it was in Ireland where he met his English wife, Maureen Browne in the summer of 1949, a chance encounter which was the source not only of a long and happy marriage, but also another great story. One day, when Maureen was driving out of Westport with her friend Sonia Kelly, their car happened to break down outside the Hopkins house. Sonia and Maureen knocked on the door, searching for Peter, who was known to be good at fixing cars. But it was Paddy who was at home, and it was love at first sight. They were married soon afterwards, and remained happily married for 52 years, with Paddy loving to joke that the car breakdown was a plot to snare him!
Their first son Aidan was born in 1950, followed by Sheelagh, Rory and Fiona, and Paddy was later to become grandfather of six and great-grandfather to another five, with a sixth one on the way. From his grandchildren came the name Paddydad, by which he was known to many in the years afterwards – Sheelagh wanted him to be known as granddad, but he wanted to be known as Paddy, and we finally settled somewhere in the middle.
Paddy loved sport, and played football and even rowed on the Thames when he and Maureen lived in London with their young family. He remained in England working in personnel until returning to Ireland in 1976. However he was not quite ready to retire, and lived and worked in Limerick for three years before returning to Westport and putting both his endless energy and love of the town into a new, post-retirement career as an environmental campaigner and supporter of tourism.
In the early 1980s, when a goldmining company wanted to mine for gold on Croagh Patrick Paddy foresaw the environmental damage that it would cause and that there was more money to be made from promoting tourism in Westport. He set up the Mayo Environmental Group, spearheaded the campaign to save the mountain, organised a huge public rally and persuaded David Bellamy to come over and support the campaign. The campaign saved the mountain, and perhaps ultimately it saved him in return, helping him through the pain of losing his eldest son Aidan to cancer.
Paddy was also a founding member and first chairman of Westport Tourism and Tidy Towns and prevented Clew bay being filled with polluting fish farms. These achievements were recognised by his nomination for the Irish Times Pensioner of the Year, and remembered more recently at a dinner organised in his honour at the Sheebeen, at which he was memorably described as the ‘Mandela of Westport’.
His commitment to these causes never wavered, and a second attempt to mine gold on the Reek was foiled just six years ago when Paddy re-ignited the campaign in his late eighties.
Another lifelong passion was for golf, and he was still playing 18 holes until very recently, including a yearly event known as insomniacs, Paddy’s own idea, which involved a 4am start, 18holes of golf and breakfast in the club afterwards. He loved to complain about his younger golf partners Dermot Blythe, Hugh Murphy and Fergal Hope, calling them old codgers and taking their money off them until just last year.
Over the years he was Captain, President and Secretary of Westport Golf Club, and granted lifelong membership, and also succeeded in getting the course designated as a wildlife reserve, thereby combining two of his greatest passions.
Paddy lost his wife Maureen in 2001, but with typical spirit he coped with his loss well, learning to cook the recipes written out for him by his children and grandchildren, and even baking his own bread. His hospitality in these years meant that he hosted more than 20 of his grandchildren’s friends, joining them in Matt Molloy’s or the Shebeen for a glass of Guinness, where he discovered that ‘just one more Paddy’ rarely meant just one more.
Paddy’s youthful and mischievous spirit never left him. Only a week or so ago he requested that a bottle of vintage whiskey, which he’d managed to keep hidden away from his grandchildren and their friends, be opened, and proceeded to have a drink with Sheelagh and Fiona, and with Rory on the end of the phone. His sense of humour was also intact, with him joking that the nurses were welcome to visit him as long as they stayed away from his whiskey!
Paddy never ceased to surprise us. Aged 89 Paddy was cutting a branch at the top of a ten foot ladder, when he fell from the top and fell flat onto his back. In his own words: “I fell from the top of the ladder but on the way down my guardian angel gave me wings and miraculously I survived without even a broken bone. (I played golf in the afternoon). Luckily I have always believed in a guardian angel, so I guess this proves that they exist, at least for me”. He also never lost his sense of adventure, enjoying a trip on the Orient Express with his daughter for his 90th birthday.
Paddy’s unique charm and warmth was felt by all the district and palliative care nurses who looked after him in recent months. We would like to thank everyone especially Dr Sharon Collins, our wonderful home help Anita, and all the girls in Boots who were so helpful and kind.
Paddy was a true gentleman: charismatic, funny, a loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend to so many. In the words of one of his grandchildren, “Paddy was the most incredible man we have ever known, and I am sure I can speak for all of us when I say that”.
The following poetic reflection was given by Paddy’s granddaughter Anna Randel:
I read the poems of ageing
But they don’t fit you
Whose heart and humour
Were always young.
They tell of painful years
But they don’t ring true of you
Who skipped almost to the end,
Tanned and untouchable.
The losses and the sadnesses they talk of
Were true for you too, I know.
But you never bent or stooped
Always walking tall.
You were the laughing patriarch
The family elder
Who loved cartoons, built train sets and spun us stories of Brogeen and Johnny
And when we were older
Tales of the people you had known, who were always funny
And dug out glutinous poitín
Before drinking us under the table.
We were so proud of you as children
Campaigner, captain and hero
And proud as grown-ups
Showing you our children
Knowing how lucky we were
That they could love you too.
We will think of you
When we look at the bay
When we spot the Reek after a long journey
When we eat mackerel, freshly caught.
Westport is yours.
And we will think of you
Wherever we are
The feel of your soft jumpers
When you hugged us
The way you peeled your spuds with your knife
And ate peanut butter with jam, cut into small pieces.
We will always think of you,
Our lovely Paddydad
Who had the strongest heart, and the biggest.
Paddy who was predeceased by his wife Maureen, son Aidan, brother Vincent and sister Kathleen will be sadly missed by his son Rory, daughters Sheelagh and Fiona, brothers Peter and Joe, sisters Gerry, Ceura, Florence and Eithne, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, in-laws, nieces, nephews and a wide circle of friends.
Westport Golf Club provied a Guard of Honour at Paddy’s removal and funeral before he was laid to rest in Aughavale Cemetery.
May he have peaceful rest.