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Ciarán Burke was Clonbur

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LEGACYThe death of Ciarán Burke, the uncrowned King of Clonbur leaves big gap in the region.

Willie McHugh


The leader of the band is tired and his
eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy to the leader of the band
- Dan Fogelberg

The brightest bulb in the Joyce Country chandelier has dimmed. It had been flickering this while gone. Ciarán Burke passed away peacefully in University Hospital Galway on Saturday evening week last. The surgery he underwent earlier had been a success but he’d already lost the will to live.
Medicine with all its great advances cannot mend a broken heart.
Ciarán and his wife Cha, their daughters Adrienne and Anna, sons Tomás and Gearóid and the extended Burke family have experienced more than any family’s share of pain and grieving over the last 20 months with the untimely passing of their two sons.
Eoin died suddenly on the road between Clonbur and Cornamona in November 2017. They were slowly starting to come to terms with that immeasurable loss when their son Colm was diagnosed with a serious illness in April 2018. On the turning hours of the old and New Year Colm was called from the family he loved and had fought hard to live for.
For the remaining clan it was their journey of the Via Dolorosa. On Ciarán it took the heaviest toll of all. The spark failed to ignite again. The step no longer sprung, the interest in the everyday things waned and the bit of diabhlaíocht left the soul.
Ciarán Burke was the uncrowned King of Clonbur. He ran a successful business based on the age old principle of the customer always being right even at the times they weren’t. He was blessed with an innate knowledge and deep understanding of the human psyche. He knew what you were thinking even before you thought it.
Long before the ‘people before profit’ term came into vogue, it was his mantra, He was flaithiúlach by nature giving full value for money and more besides.
‘A great place to live, a great place to visit’ is Clonbur’s mission statement. The ‘Baile Beag’ beneath majestic Mount Gable and hemmed on all sides by an alluring scenery is all of that.
But Ciarán didn’t put full reliance on the vistas of the region. “The lakes and mountains will bring the visitors once but it’s up to us to keep bringing them back,” was his lifelong modus operandi. And it was mainly because of him and his renowned welcome they returned regularly like moths to a flame.
Pitched as it is on the borderlines of Galway and Mayo, football is another strong trading currency. Ciarán was miles ahead of the posse with his novel idea of 32 figurines depicting the colours of every county on a shelf above the counter.
As each exited the championship in both hurling and football they were turned inwards with only the two winners facing forward from over the winter months. He loved the banter and the border rivalry. But he yearned also for the September evening when Mayo would be eventually crowned All-Ireland Champions. His first visit to Croke Park was in 1951 when Mayo won their last All-Ireland.
In a chat with this publication in 2012 the great raconteur took the reader on a trip around Clonbur of yesteryears gone. Ciarán weaved strands of magic into every yarn. His lilting tone painted lasting images on the canvas of the mind.
He spoke of a time the village was an active business hub with signs above every door of the winding thoroughfare. He recalled with date accuracy memories of bad times and better. The death on February 10, 1975 of his next door neighbour and friend since childhood Seamus Kyne and his own brother Ignatius in 2011.
Of an April day in 1940 when 24 families from the region boarded buses in Clonbur and lorries hauling their worldly possession transferred them to Allenstown in County Meath. When they returned in 2015 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the move Ciarán was the strongest link in the holding chain of their roots.
He mentioned happy happenings. Of seeing Galway and his footballing idol Seán Purcell winning the 1956 All-Ireland. The subsequent Galway wins brought joy too. But no sporting occasion surpassed a February day in 2012 when Clonbur were crowned Junior football champions of Ireland in Croke Park. That they sported the Tí Bhurca logo on their jersey was a sense of immense personal satisfaction.
In 1973 he expanded into the undertaking business. Michael Joyce of Kilbride was his first funeral. He appreciated the assistance a young rookie received that evening from Jimmy Jennings, Patrick and Liam Joyce and his friend and lieutenant Miko Walsh of Finney.
He quickly established himself as the grand master of undertaking. He drove Clonbur’s last stage coach. Ciarán Burke tweaked this most poignant of professions down to the finest art.
He brought a comforting presence to every bereaved hearthstone. With Ciarán there was never a pecking order. Each individual was afforded the utmost respect and reverence. In the execution of his duties he was familiar with the inner sanctum of most homes from Cross to Cornamona, from Ballyvean to Townaleen and the idyllic hamlets within.
From the sprinkling of the baptismal water to the shaking of the incense, Clonbur was the axis his world rotated on. He knew every dwelling, the people who lived there, every gate and gap or the stone wall boundaries. He was a businessman, a loyal friend, a confidant and a bottomless font of knowledge.
There was never another agenda or a hidden ace up the cuff in any dealings. When Ciarán uttered his famous catchphrase ‘listen, listen’ the listener tuned into something worth hearing. He talked and laughed with you but never about or at you. He was always a stepping stone and never a stumbling block.
He got the renowned Clonbur send-off and deservedly so. It was he who left the blueprint. Once more they turned out in their multitudes coming on all sat nav guidings. By the time chief steward Mike Dolan prompted Miceál Gannon to mute his mobile phone Clonbur church was wedged to overflowing for another Burke funeral.
They carried remnants of his well-lived life to the altar. His daughter Anna gave a beautiful and heartfelt eulogy on a loving husband, dad and grandfather. Father Gerry Burns’s homily was delivered with the usual smidgen of humour and Catriona Canny and her choir serenaded with some well-chosen dirges.
To Rosshill Cemetary the next generation inheriting his bequeathed mantle of greatness carried him on his final journey. It was a route he knew quite well, the last road out of Clonbur.
His memory will live on and the contribution he made to all strands of Clonbur life will ever be remembered. Ciarán Burke was the leader of The Joyce Country Céili Band.
Do let ye dance to the rhythm he left.