IN MEMORY The grave of Louis Haegeli, Westport’s honorary citizen, in Hoernli Cemetery, near Basel with its Celtic Cross memorial.
Tribute to Ireland by family of Westport’s honorary citizen
WHEN Westport’s honorary citizen Louis Haegeli died in 2010, his family decided that they would mark his unique love of Ireland by erecting a Celtic cross over his grave in Switzerland.
For almost half a century Louis had been a regular visitor to Westport, mainly to pursue his angling interests. His stays in the town became more and more frequent and eventually he built a house two miles outside the town at Sheroe, where he and his wife Hermine spent several months each year, often joined by other family members and friends.
Louis was a well-known international businessman, and often brought groups to Westport for leisure and angling holidays. He was also a great supporter of local charitable and community causes.
Indeed, such was his contribution to tourism and to community projects that Westport Urban District Council decided to confer honorary citizenship of the town on him, a very significant honour that he greatly appreciated. As honorary citizen, he was invited to all civic receptions for visiting dignitaries to the town and was an annual participant in St Patrick’s Day parades in Westport.
He was very proud of the fact that, as honorary citizen, he met several Irish Presidents and several Irish Prime Ministers (Taoisigh).
Louis marked his eightieth birthday with a gala party in Hotel Westport in 2002 and several local people, including Sheroe neighbours, attended. It was, alas, one of his last public appearances in the town as failing health began to take its toll. He eventually returned to Basel where he lived out his remaining years in quiet retirement, lovingly cared for by his family. He died there in June 2010.
His son Max told The Mayo News: “When my father was buried in Basel in June 2010, I had the idea that his grave should be decorated with a Celtic cross in memory of his unique love for Ireland and his many long and happy stays in Westport. My mother Hermine also liked the idea and asked me to take the necessary steps. First I contacted my godchild Katrin Coffey who lives in Aughagower and asked for her assistance. Katrin got in touch with her sister-in-law Michelle Coffey, who kindly sent me some pictures of Irish gravestones made in her firm. I then contacted Stephen Grieder - a young inspired Swiss stone-cutter and distant relative of my wife Anne. He looked into the Celtic culture and their crosses and made some proposals at the start of 2011, before we chose the cross we liked most. In April 2011 he started to work on a local shell limestone which he got from a quarry 30 miles from Basel. In July the impressive two meter high cross was set on Louis’s grave along with the original gaelic inscription we chose - ‘O Bhás Go Críoch Ní Críoch Ach Ath Fhás’ (Frrom Death To The End, Not The End But a Rebirth)”
The grave in which Louis is buried is in the Hoernli Cemetery and is the biggest in Switzerland. It is situated north of Basel just a mile from the German border, and has over 400,000 graves. Louis’s grave is the only Irish Celtic cross grave in the cemetery.
Said Max - “I am sure my father is proud and happy with his Irish grave and looking down from Heaven, I can see him gently smiling.”
Louis’s widow Hermine has coped with a good deal of illness in recent years. She is fondly remembered in Westport and when she penned her life story some years ago, much favourble mention was given to Westport. It was a book that sold very well in Basel and further afield.
Through the columns of The Mayo News, Max and his wife Anne wish to remembered to the many friends of the Haegeli family in the Westport area.
“We have wonderful memories of the town and its people and my father’s love of Westport did not die with him. We are happy to pass it onto our children and grandchildren who now give us so much pleasure,” he said.