Leaca Bán, Lisclovane, Westport
The handshakes and the hugs. The words of comfort and condolence. The texts, the emails, the calls and cards. They all play a part. In their own unique way they are a living tribute to a great man. In doing so they also comfort broken hearts. They dip into our emptiness, a balm of relief.
Even as days slip into weeks and we now approach the Month’s Mind threshold, every face, word and touch still soothes. We should never ever underestimate our ability to comfort, to stand alongside, to walk with, to share. We should never ever underestimate our ability to be comforted.
In a strange way grief finds some sense of meaning when it is shared. We, as individuals and family, have experienced that. Perhaps it is the ultimate response to death – O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?
Joe McNally was a man of many parts. People experienced him in their own way. To us he was Dad, born on 25th August 1925 on the North Mall, Westport at the junction with Castlebar Street. The premises were owned by his grandparents Michael (died 1897) and Catherine (died 1937). Catherine split the building between two of her sons Tom (Castlebar Street and shop) and Michael, Dad’s father (North Mall side where Catherine also lived.)
Dad was one of six – three boys and three girls – born to Michael and Mae (Durkan, formerly of Bridge Street). Dad was the last – the eldest Michael died in infancy (buried in Glasnevin), Alf and Mary died and are buried in Wolverhampton, Cotty in Canada and Joan, who died in America is buried in the family plot in Kilmaclasser, Westport.
Dad’s father worked in the Bus Office, a hundred yards from home. After a stint as a Military Police Officer in the Irish Army Dad considered joining the Palestine Police Force. His father convinced him to try the Bus Office job ‘for a couple of weeks.’ The weeks went into years until retirement beckoned and the Bus Office closed for the final time.
The Bus Office was the centre of activity for Dad, his work, rest and play! It was a haven of joy, wit and wisdom as its walls were enthralled by a host of characters. Jerry Cowley, Frank Mahon, Jackie McNally, Bill Browne, Gerry Sweeney, Joe Broderick, Seán Staunton, Jackie McAleer, Patsy McGreal, Mattie Clarke, Willie Kelly, John Moore, Mickie Kelly, PJ Kelly, Gráinne, PJ McEvilly, Pat McNally, Block, Johnny Kelly, Michael Burke, Tony Lavelle, John Jeffers, Johnny Staunton, Máirt Curry, Frank Murphy and the ever faithful Patsy Staunton… These are some among the numerous Bus Office names.
He so loved Patsy’s visits, right up until Patsy’s untimely death in May. They imbued him with life and joy. Patsy was a one-man show! They’re all together now. There are still a few onlookers – Chris Lavelle, Seán Rice, John Melvin, Neil Staunton and the wonderful Vinny Heraty from Taobh na Cruaiche and New York, who rang Dad every few weeks, up to the end. (Vinny inspired a famous ‘health board’ letter from Dad to John Moore, victualler of note!)
Dad’s prayer path was outside the front of Leaca Bán, home, pacing up and down under the moonlight as his fingers ran up and down the Rosary beads, remembering those who looked down from the heavens. Dad’s faith was unshakeable – a mature faith based on a real relationship with a living God.
He liked to say, ‘I’m in my 95th year.’ Not a bad innings. He now joins Mam, gone two years and our brother Rory, gone three years. Like us all, he missed Mam and Rory, the Duke, no end. And he was ready to go.
Family life started for us all in No 1, St Mary’s Crescent – the bottom block! Dad was a town councillor (Independent) at the time and prided himself on having Patsy McGreal bookend the bottom block in No 20 with fellow councillor Matt Beckett and Johnny Staunton bookending the top block. It was Dad who suggested St Mary’s Crescent as the name for the estate at the time (1958).
No 1 was affectionately known as Green Acres – we had a menagerie of birds and animals – hens, ducks, geese, canaries, pheasants that never hatched, dogs, especially greyhounds, cats, goats and cattle. And they all had names! The stories and memories are legion.
Many people will remember the white Fiat 124 – TIZ 673 – en route to the Point, Belclare Swimming Pool (yes, there was one!), Bertra or Old Head with arms and legs hanging out the windows and the boot! We think Dad was trying to prove that when Fiat called it a 124 you could actually fit 124 people into the car at the same time!
Dad loved swimming and did it all year round as long as he could. Along with Máire, Tadhg, Seosamh, Cormac and Daire, hundreds, if not thousands, of young people were given swimming and life-saving lessons by Dad along the shores of Mayo from Louisburgh to Achill and all in between, along with Clare Island, Inisturk and Inisboffin. “He taught me to swim” was a common refrain during the funeral.
According to himself, Dad’s greatest personal achievement was winning the Lord Sligo Cup in the Westport Coursing Club two years in succession with a dog and bitch out of the same litter, a feat never replicated. He had bought the mother from his neighbour and friend, Tommy Moran from the Mall. Thanks to several people we located the cup and it had pride of place at his 90th birthday celebrations.
He was a ‘rum chanter,’ a sweet tenor, and sang all over Ireland and on Raidio Éireann. He was also the founding chair of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Westport. A few years ago he released a CD – Songs and Poems For Your Pleasure. Another funeral refrain was “He sang at our wedding.”
He also published two books – Westport - The Tear and the Smile and Memories of Covieland. The Tear and the Smile became a best seller with three printings. ‘Thank you Joe Berry,’ Dad would always say. It couldn’t have happened without Joe, God rest him. The book has been read far and wide, travelled every continent and has even been buried in coffins alongside Covies.
In recent years Dad enjoyed wonderful company at Friday Friends and Monday Friends in the Social Services Centre, thanks to Maureen Scott, staff and volunteers. Dad’s trips there gave him a new lease of life and energy. He also enjoyed the bus trip home – the scenic route – with his lifelong friend and neighbour Marie McGreal, thanks to bus driver Michael O’Haire.
He’d be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect but to us he was a great Dad and we told him that. Life is short, even at 94. Things need to be said, say them! Dad was kindness personified, funny and humorous, always supportive of us, always encouraging, often challenging us to do better, sometimes remonstrating – ‘There’s a line of demarcation’. But he was always there with his unconditional love. His answers were quick and his wit sharp and legendary. We’ll miss all of that.
Dad was a true Covie, born in Westport where he lived all his life. He also travelled, even visiting Rory in Australia. In 1967 he travelled with brother-in-law Rev Míceál Hastings on board the Queen Elizabeth to the USA where he received the ‘keys of the city’ of Westport, Connecticut. Dad dressed up as an Irish Granny in a mini-skirt for an on board fancy dress and won top prize. At the prize-giving the Captain knew Fr Míceál was a priest. He asked Dad what he did – ‘Oh, I’m his Bishop,’ says he!
Those unable to join us for his funeral flickered a flame in Dad’s honour in Westport, Achill, Dublin, Armagh, Belfast, Perth, Holyhead, Japan, London, New York, Boston, Seattle, Penetanguishene in Canada, Thailand and Dubai amongst many other places. He will always light up the hearts of so many of us, especially here in Covieland, Westport, a town he dearly loved.
His book Westport – The Tear and the Smile concludes with:
‘Gone are the loved ones
who once loved us dearly
Gone are the friends
of our youth long ago
The Tear and the Smile
are all that are left now
Of faces and places
and a town I loved so.’
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.