I remember my earliest trips to Ireland as a child to visit my grandma, aunts, uncles and cousins. Thoughts of cabbage and mashed potatoes, the creamiest butter and milk, Flake chocolate bars in a soft cone and running wild in the green hills come to mind. Uncle Seán Conlon was a fixture on these visits. I will never forget his laugh and his stories.
When he was sixteen, he left Ireland to go to work in England. The first farm he landed at had employed his older brother Paddy but Paddy had since moved on to a new job. So Seán was a teenager there on his own.
He said he wasn’t allowed to stay in the house on the farm so he had to sleep in the barn. It was cold and there were mice and the thunder and lightning storms were vicious. He would read the Western People newspaper his mother would send him from Mayo when the barn lit up with claps of lightning and he could see the pages. He didn’t want to waste the small candle he had in case he needed it.
He, like his other brothers, would send money home to my grandma in Ireland which she would use to send my mom to the St Louis Convent in Kiltimagh for high school. This led to my mom, Mary (Conlon) Kelleher studying nursing in England and midwifery in Scotland and eventually travelling to Canada to work in a hospital as a nurse. That’s where she met my dad Jim Kelleher from Cork. And that’s why my brother Seamus and I are here today.
Seán was very good to my grandma. He and my Uncle Paddy worked in England and Seán would always bring grandma a new coat and brooch and scarf from Marks and Spencer when he came home to visit. She loved dressing up for Sunday mass in her new outfits.
When Seán was young, he would often do his brother Paddy’s homework and then put it back in his school bag so that Paddy wouldn’t get in trouble at school if his work wasn’t done. The brothers were very close. Once they ran into someone home from America in the fields as young boys. The lady asked if they were twins and Uncle Seán said yes they were. The American asked how old they were and Seán replied, “I’m four and Paddy is five.”
I remember a story that Seán told about our American cousins. One of our cousins, a bachelor, was travelling out from New York to see Seán and was staying with him. Seán had left to pick him up at the train station. In the meantime, another cousin from America who didn’t know about the first cousin’s visit, decided to come to Ireland for her honeymoon as she had won a trip. They didn’t tell anyone they were coming.
They stopped into Tarpey’s in Kilkelly and asked about Sean Conlon. Thinking this was the visitor Seán had been talking about the shopkeeper said, “Oh yes! Sean is expecting you!” and told them how to find Seán’s house.
They drove to Seán’s but found that no one was home. In the meantime, Seán was driving back to his house from the train station with his American visitor. As he drove along the grass-lined one-car-width road, he thought he noticed one of his cows missing from the field. So he stopped in the middle of the road, leaving his American cousin who could not drive in the car to wait for him and Seán climbed up the hill. Just at that moment, the other American cousins returning to town from Seán’s empty house came upon Seán’s car and couldn’t pass. So they got out of the car to talk to the people in the stopped car and realized they were all cousins from New York. Talk about a family reunion on the road between Kilkelly and Ballure.
Years ago, a Slovenian friend of mine from my first job told me he was travelling to Ireland for a week. I was getting married a few days later and was very busy so I couldn’t organize any visits for him.
I didn’t think he would leave Dublin but I told him if he did rent a car and decided to visit the west of Ireland, to stop in Kilkelly and ask for Uncle Seán. He ended up doing just that. He pulled into the square in Kilkelly and saw a car parked there. He had seen pictures of my uncles around my computer at work so he thought he recognized someone.
He walked up to the parked car and knocked on the window. The man rolled down the window and my friend asked, “Are you Uncle Seán?” My uncle replied, “I’m somebody’s Uncle Seán.”
Seán and my other uncles brought my friend into the pub and they had a meal. Then they kept him for the night. My friend thought he had never met such friendly folks.
Seán loved music, especially the bagpipes. He spent the last year in the hospital after a fall and one time while my mom was visiting from Canada he asked her to get permission to have some bagpipers in to play. They ended up putting on a mini-concert and the whole ward enjoyed the music.
He loved Irish poems and ballads. He requested to hear the Knock Airport Song on his last night and my mom sent the lyrics to my cousins who read it to him in his hospital bed.
I feel very blessed that our Irish dance journey brought my children Jack, Jameson and Maggie back to Ireland where they had a chance to get to know our Irish relatives including Uncle Seán. The kids danced on a wood board at Uncle Seán’s house at a gathering to celebrate our first trip when we travelled over to compete in Glasgow and stopped in Mayo. We visited Uncle Seán at the day program at the hospital in Swinford on our next trip where the kids did some Irish dancing and sang. Maggie sang Danny Boy and Jack sang Kilkelly, Ireland.
I sang Uncle Seán’s requests which were the ballads James Connelly and Michael Collins. And then on our most recent trip to the World Irish Dance Championships we visited Seán in the hospital where we chatted with him and the kids and I did some more dancing and singing.
He ended his journey on the morning of October 27th and I believe he is having a wonderful conversation in heaven with my grandma Mary Kate Conlon.
The poet Mary Oliver said, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” Seán didn’t just visit. He laughed and he loved. He listened to music and he cheered on his nephews as they boxed their way to win the All-Irelands. He found jobs and made friends in England and Scotland. He worked the farm in Ireland and he enjoyed a good meal. He left many people with a smile on their face. He was a lovely son, brother and uncle.
We will never forget you. Seán Conlon (1940-2018). May he rest in peace.
Reposing was at the Marian Funeral Home, Knock, with removal to his residence in Ballure, Kilkelly. Further removal too place the following morning from his home to St. Patrick’s Church, Woodfield, for Funeral Mass followed by burial in Culmore Cemetery. Condolences are tendered to the Conlon family circle on the passing of Seán.
This obituary was written by Siobhan (Kelleher) Kukolic, daughter of Mary (Conlon) Kelleher, Mississauga, Toronto, Canada.