A LOCAL LEGEND Eoin Burke from Clonbur who was laid to rest last week.
“The man who knows his own half acre knows the world.”
(Patrick Kavanagh — allegedly)
FROM Cleggan to Corrandulla and miles beyond, word spread rapidly of the sudden and untimely passing of Eoin Burke. Eoin was widely-known and highly-regarded and every telling met with shock and disbelief.
But in Clonbur and Joyce Country it reverberated loudest of all. From Townaleen to Moyne Bridge, from Maam Cross to Maamtrasna, Eoin Burke was an instantly-recognised household name at every hearthstone and kitchen table. Dogs wagged their tails as Eoin went by.
This was his half acre. He knew every road, boreen, cul-de-sac and mountain track. He was as much part of this landscape as Mount Gable, Kilbride’s Ferry Bridge, Lough’s Nafooey, Mask, Corrib, Coolin, Cloughbrack’s American crossroad and Maam Valley.
On days ‘Dúiche Sheoighe’ donned its Sunday finery and put its best foot forward, it was to Eoin they turned to appendage the ceremonial trappings.
Like a 2012 February evening when the footballers came home to Clonbur’s ‘Latin Quarter’ as All-Ireland junior champions. Eoin afforded them due homage as their amazing achievement was lauded.
On a blustery May morning in 2015 he was ‘Fear an Tí’ when they officially welcomed members and some survivors of the 24 families who transferred to holdings in Allenstown 75 years before. A good organiser too.
In Clonbur at a funeral Mass a few years back a celebrant became ill. Eoin immediately did what needed doing so as others could enact a life-saving procedure.
Little wonder then they converged in their thousands over two days last week to pay their respects to Eoin’s grieving family. “A dhiabhal, but we’re nearly beyond in Cong” quipped someone to no-one in particular whilst joining the ever lengthening queue.
From early Tuesday afternoon they lined the village street leading to the family funeral parlour to tender sympathy to his wife Brid, children Hannah, Paddy, Muiréad and Jean, parents Ciaran and Cha, siblings Adrienne, Anna, Tomás, Gearóid and Colm, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, in-laws and the extended family circle.
Even allowing for the longevity of Methuselah, a funeral of such magnitude will never be witnessed in this region again. Night had yielded to another day when his remains arrived at Saint Patrick’s lovely church.
To deal with the converging multitudes, the Clonbur Action Plan was activated. Without fuss or fanfare stewards helped with traffic control. A meitheal plied all-comers with copious mugs of piping hot tea. Or coffee for the pernickety ones.
Householders opened their doors providing toilet facilities. Every age group lent a shoulder to the community wheel. It ran with military precision, but no surprise there. Clonbur does funerals better than anywhere else in the world.
An hour before Fr Gerry Burns and his full supporting cast began Eoin’s funeral mass on Wednesday, Clonbur was wedged sardine tight to overflowing. It was a celebration befitting Eoin Burke’s living years. His son, Paddy, set the tone with a heartfelt tribute to his loving dad. Catríona Canny and her choir plucked the high notes.
Roisin Kearns read from The Book of Ecclesiastes and Seán Birch narrated Paul’s second dispatch to The Corinthians. After communion, Tommy Reilly, when thanking everyone finished with a verse of ‘Clonbur’ a poem composed by Fr Malone when he ministered there.
“Clonbur and its Mount Gable
Lough Corrib and Lough Mask
Ashford to Coornamond
Now for more you’ll never ask.”
In his superbly crafted homily Father Gerry spoke of the Eoin Burke he first met when Gerry officiated in St Jarlath’s College Tuam. Over a lifetime Eoin’s endearing personality hadn’t changed an iota.
He won an All-Ireland College medal with the famed Tuam nursery in 1982. In the final against St Fachtna’s, Skibeereen, Eoin donned the number six jersey replacing the injured Pat McNamara.
In a selfless sporting gesture immediately after the game, Eoin handed the jersey to Pat as a keepsake. Last weekend Pat McNamara journeyed to Clonbur and presented the jersey back to the Burke family.
A sticky and tight marker he was too. But don’t take our word for it. In an article on his Killererin club some years back, Galway footballing legend Padraig Joyce named Eoin Burke as ‘the toughest but cleanest defender’ he ever encountered. Eoin Burke always togged big for Clonbur, giving every ounce of energy to the cause.
He was imbued with a business acumen not conferred in the finishing schools of Yale or Harvard. A publican, hotelier, mart manager and undertaker, he’d learned from the master. He upheld the renowned Burke tradition of treating every customer with respect and always going the extra distance.
At times of bereavement it’s on Burke’s door the denizens of this idyllic hamlet knock. Burkes have this noblest of professions perfected to a fine art and conducted always with decorum and sincerity. And the little bit of humour whenever the occasion permits.
He was courageous too and never shirked a challenge. In his wife Bríd he had the perfect ally. From Finney, Bríd Duffy honed her business nuance in the family grocery and post office. For years Peacockes of Maam Cross stood as a stark reminder of a crippling economy. When Eoin and Bríd acquired it they revived community spirit and injected new life into one of Connemara’s most iconic hubs.
There was only one Eoin Burke. He made everyone’s world a much friendlier place. There was no posturing or courting the limelight. He spoke the vernacular of the everyday and the ordinary. He had a myriad of brilliant aphorisms and him ever proud of his Clonbur rearing. A great raconteur, he regaled every gathering with his alluring lilting tone. There was a fine smidgen of harmless diabhlaíocht in his make-up too.
He was honest in all dealings, never looking for a handy opening in the hedgerow of misfortune to take unfair advantage. Flaithúlach always and he blessed with a rich scion of common sense.
We inked in with Kavanagh’s supposed musing, and to Listowel we turn to another famous publican and playwright, the late John B Keane. To summarise the wonderful life and times of Eoin Burke we’ll paraphrase Pats Bocock’s command to Carthalawn in Keane’s masterpiece, Sive.
You gave it your best Eoin.
Your almighty best.