A great oak falls

De Facto

PASSIONATE GAEILGEOIR Author and songwriter Feargal Ó Béarra, who died last week.

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

The Christmas season brings more than presents under the tree. It can also highlight a lack of the presence of a loved one. That empty chair becomes more acute, especially the first Christmas. Honouring those fallen great oaks is an important Christmas reality.
It is said that a library is lost when an older people dies. We have just lost a library of libraries with the death, on December 21, of my 52-year-old cousin, Feargal Ó Béarra, An Spidéal, son of Teddy Berry (The Fairgreen, Westport) and Sally (née Hastings, Doire Mhór, Drummin).     
Recently, sitting up in his Brussels hospital bed (before being transferred to St Vincent’s, Dublin, and finally, The Galway Clinic) he conducted a conversation with his consultant, doctor, nurse and brother in four languages, Irish, English, French and German. For those of us blessed enough to know him we wouldn’t put it past him. He was also no stranger to Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Latin and Ancient Greek. A polyglot extraordinaire.  
It is no wonder when we were all much younger that we didn’t like to see this national-language tunnel-visionary coming! If truth be told, we all felt our own inadequacies in his presence.
The etymology of ‘linguaphile’ – a lover of languages – does little to describe the sheer love, energy and passion that Feargal had for Irish language and literature in all its guises through the eons. With the wisdom of age we admired his vision ever more.
He was at home in any Irish epoch – Primitive Irish, Archaic (Early Old Irish), Old Irish, Middle Irish, Modern Irish (classical/early, and dialectally differentiated variants of Modern Irish). His book collection reflects this, as it does many other facets of his interests, from music to art.
He was an award-winning author and songwriter as Gaeilge. He loved music, especially Irish, but also Dylan, Young and Cave through to classical and operatic. Music coursed through the veins of his ancestry. His godfather and uncle, Tadhg Hastings from Doire Mhór, was a nationally renowned traditional singer. Doire Mhór, or Tamhnaigh Slionnáin to be more exact (as was his wont!), resting in the hallowed mantle of Croagh Patrick, was a sacred ancestral place for Feargal.
His vision captured all the colours of the rainbow when his heart melted into the heart of Maedhbh Nic Dhonnchadha, a chéile cléibh. Two souls meant for each other. Their mutual love was palpable, blessed and found new life in their children Aindrias agus Saileog.
Feargal was a great husband for whom family was central. He relished being a father and cherished his children. Maedhbh and he worked so hard to give their children the best grounding they possibly could. This will continue with Maedhbh and the extended family, and the children’s older German-born brother, Piaras.
Litanies of saints have their places, but to witness a living litany of whispered loving assurances between a wife and husband as he lay gravely ill is a rare privilege, a sacred intimacy. It is a heart-breaking blessing.       
Feargal’s mother, Sally, and his four brothers also maintained a bedside vigil. Sally, mindful of the pangs of birth that brought forth her youngest son, was now witnessing Feargal’s own pangs as he prepared for eternal rebirth.
Giving and regiving. Like Mary’s ‘yes’ to the Angel Gabriel and a Christmas birth, Calvary loomed, which in turn, blooms into resurrection.  
Feargal’s hospital room was filled with prayer, songs, poems, holy water and sacred oils. He was blest and blessed, beannaithe agus coisricthe. St Francis said that whoever sings, prays twice. Feargal’s own songs were sung back to him by family and friends. Antoine Ó Raifteirí was honoured and took on a special meaning on the shortest day of the year with ‘Anois teacht an Earraigh / Beidh an lá dúl chun síneadh…’
All paid tribute to a fine man whose short life yielded a rich bounty. In death, crann.ie is the fitting charity chosen to honour Feargal, this oak, doire mhór, of a man. Thanks to Fergus Hastings, an oakwood, Doire Fheargail, will be planted in his honour in his beloved Doire Mhór. As síol beag a fhásann  an crann is airde. Leaba i measc na naomh go raibh aige.