Undertaking the new challenges


FAMILY TIES Tomás Burke (right) is pictured with his late father Ciarán in Tí Bhurca in Clonbur in 2016.

Mike Finnerty

IT’S almost 50 years now since the late Ciarán Burke from Clonbur became an undertaker.
The legendary Clonbur entrepreneur quickly set about establishing a renowned family business and over the years all of the clan became part of the ‘Burke Funeral Directors’ team.
His sons Tomás and Eoin (who passed away suddenly in November 2017) were signed up in their early teens, while another of his sons, Colm, also served his time until his sad passing in April 2018.
Nowadays, Tomás carries the torch passed to him when his father died in August 2019.
His brother Gearóid, and sisters Adrienne and Anna also help out, while his brother-in-law Dermot, and nephew Paddy (Eoin’s son) are never found wanting either.
They are known far and wide for their professionalism and their personal touch; they have helped families from Clonbur, Cornamona, Finney, Cong, Cross and The Neale in their hours of need since 1973.
But Tomás Burke says that the Covid-19 ‘Level 5’ restrictions that have been in force for the last four months ‘made it very difficult for families’ who have suffered bereavements.
The 53 year-old also feels that the absence of ‘traditional Irish funerals’ is ‘going to have a huge toll on a lot of people’ who have lost loved ones since the start of the year.
In the days before Covid, more than 100 people would attend most funerals in Clonbur.
Since January 1 that number was reduced to just ten due to Covid-19 restrictions before being increased to 25 yesterday (Monday) as restrictions were eased slightly.
“We’re social animals, and there is no doubt that Irish funerals are the best way of doing funerals in the world,” Tomás told The Mayo News.
“The way they were done up to last March gave great comfort to families but now there is no proper wake, people can’t go to the funeral home, families and friends and neighbours can’t come together after the Mass.
“Down the road I think all of that is going to have a huge toll on a lot of people. There isn’t the same closure, families and close friends don’t get the same chance to grieve.
“One of the things you try and do sometimes is drive through a certain village on your way back so that people can stand out as you pass,” he continued.
“There are no hugs, no handshakes but they want to do something. I’ve seen people standing out in the pouring rain, I’ve seen tables with white clothes and candles on them, and it means so much to families.”
Tomás Burke also runs the family’s successful bar and restaurant in Clonbur village.
Their doors have been closed for the last four months but he still goes in every day, and says he will be ‘absolutely devastated if we’re not open for indoor dining by July 1’.
“We’re paying the price now for opening at Christmas,” he reflects. “I didn’t agree with opening up on December 4 for Christmas when we knew we were going to have to close in January anyway. And now Micheál Martin has come out and said we’ll have to close again in October. That’s so disheartening to hear, it’s soul-destroying really.”
The fact that there have been ‘very few’ Covid cases in the Clonbur area this year, or in rural Ireland generally, makes it harder to accept the current restrictions that have brought life to a halt around ‘Joyce Country’.
“There hasn’t been a noticeable increase in funerals over the last year either,” he explained.
“In fact, we’ve only had two in Clonbur in about six months.
“Fr Gerry [Burns, Clonbur parish priest] reckons we are the healthiest people in the world!’”
Regardless, Tomás Burke carries on. It’s the way it’s always been in this family business.
“It’s 24/7/365. You’re always on call. Families trust you to look after their loved ones and make sure they’re treated with dignity. It’s a great honour to be asked to do it.”