GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN Colm Burke was remembered as 'a quiet and unassuming young man with a gentle demeanour' at his funeral mass on New Year's Day in Clonbur.
“We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
We tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how”
Dan Fogelberg – Same Old Lang Syne
HIGHLY unlikely there were many renditions of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ warbled around Clonbur to herald in 2019. Or few expressions of New Year’s greeting echoed either.
Early on Saturday morning the bush telegraph carried heart-rending tidings from the ‘the Baile Beag’ of the untimely passing in his prime of Colm Burke (41).
Following a short illness, he battled bravely, Colm passed away in his Clonbur home surrounded by his loving family. Every telling triggered a feeling of deep sadness as the region tussled with unfathomable comprehension.
Colm was a devoted husband and best friend to his grief-stricken wife Paula, and an adoring father to Saoirse, Eoin, Orla and Quinn.
For his parents Ciarán and Cha, siblings Tomás, Gearoid Adrienne and Anna, along with Bríd, Hannah, Paddy, Muiréad and Jean, it was the second such tragedy visited on them.
Only a year and seven weeks earlier, Colm’s older brother Eoin died suddenly long before his time. Eoin’s funeral was the biggest seen in the west of Ireland by any reckoning. Colm joked afterwards the rest of the Burke clan would need engaging ‘rent-a-crowd’ to match Eoin’s turnout.
Colm was a quiet and unassuming young man with a gentle demeanour. In his short life he easily endeared himself to all. He has left a legacy of great and lasting impressions. He inherited all the fine strands coursing through the De Búrca DNA.
Colm was dusted with a smidgen of diabhlaíocht too. He enjoyed trading football banter with his Mayo neighbours across the nearby borderline. But always conducted in harmless jesting.
It was the same sense of humor he maintained throughout the sickness he bore with dignity, acceptance, hope and courage. He never once cursed or bemoaned the hand fate dealt him from the cruelest deck of all.
He was flaithiúlach with his time and energy, giving his all in ensuring Clonbur always looked resplendent in its idyllic setting. He was Chairperson of Clonbur/Cloughbrack Community Council but committees didn’t sit easy with Colm. He preferred walking the walk rather than talking the talk. He picked and shovelled at the coalface of every activity to enhance the region more.
He toiled among the meitheal, turning the old protestant church into a state of the art Heritage Centre. He lent his shoulder to the Zambian Housing Project and a plethora of other schemes. With Colm there were no half-measures or corner cuttings.
He was a loyal servant of detail completing all tasks to perfection. For Colm only the very best was deemed good enough for Dúiche Sheoighe.
On December’s closing day, the sympathiser’s queue stretched from the funeral home down beyond the church. At dusk a falling star hurtled earthwards.
The year was playing its final showdown scene as his remains were carried shoulder high in silence through the village street he loved unconditionally. He was chaperoned by a military style guard of honour.
As 2019 perused its opening chapter, St Patrick’s Church was wedged to overflowing an hour before the bell pealing beckoning mourners to Colm’s funeral mass.
The Clonbur Action Plan was deployed with unpretentious and helpful volunteers staffing all access routes.
In Clonbur they also seat those who stand and wait. Every vacant space was populated. An usher billeted one chap who wouldn’t know a ballast fork from a tuning fork in the front pew among Clonbur’s harmonious choir.
Colm would have loved the irony in that.
Others were accommodated in the church sacristy. Or Clonbur’s corporate box, if you like.
It was a service conducted in reverential simplicity.
And cometh the hour, cometh the woman.
At the outset Paula Burke spoke lovingly of a husband and father, son and brother. In their short time together they created more happy times and memories than most couples manage in a lifetime. Paula’s input set the tone for the ceremony.
On the altar plinth they placed mementos of Colm’s life.
His working boots, family photographs, a framed copy of the poem “Clonbur” and the mobile phone that kept him in regular contact with relatives and friends. Its SIM card contains reams of jokes he entertained the nursing staff with during his many stays in UHG.
A melodeon too depicting his love of music, song and dance. He was a regular listener and texter to the Michael Commins’ Wednesday Night Late Show on MWR.
Clonbur PP Fr Gerry Burns eschewed delivering a sermon couched in scripture’s phrasing. Like all his flock, he too was struggling to make rhyme or reason to another of life’s big mysteries. Instead he spoke of the community activist who loved his family only more than his native Clonbur.
He referenced the umpteen tasks Colm completed that now stand as reminders of his immense contributions to Clonbur and its outlying areas.
In his lovely Mayo accent, Gerry had every man, woman, and child in the packed congregation believing in the magic of Santa Claus. His was a communiqué celebrating the life and times of Colm Burke.
To Rosshill’s sleeping plots they carried Colm. The third generation of Burkes were charged with all undertaking duties. ‘The Junior C team’ as Tomás termed them. But they embraced the challenge and played senior championship. They observed every last personal idiosyncrasy the Burkes afford all entombments. The baton of tradition is passing safely down the line.
To the melodic strains of ‘Inisheer’, played by Colm’s nephew Sean Birch, they rested him close to his brother, Eoin. Mount Gable and the surrounding hills stand stately above them.
Spare a thought too for the poor devils in Heaven.
When Colm and Eoin get going they’ll not have a minute’s peace. The two boyos will unearth a thousand tasks meriting immediate attention.
The pearly gates needing a patina of paint and St Peter himself tasked with the sanding. Or replacing the old railings on the veranda. And the hallowed hall redecorated and upgraded replicating the layout of Clonbur Heritage Centre. In Clonbur, Cornamona, Glantréig, Cloughbrack, Drisacáun, Finney, and all the secluded hamlets nestling in this scenic hinterland, their memory will live on forever and a day.
For Colm and Eoin Burke, this was Paradise found.