A VILLAGE without a character is like a song without a singer or a play without a cast.
They are the thespians of life, carrying out impromptu performances on the public thoroughfare. It’s street theatre in the purest form. They provide an aside from the humdrum and the norm. They chose the nuances of a life less ordinary. They are masters of their own destiny while the rest of us willingly sacrifice ourselves as hostages to progress.
The village of Shrule has been well served in this regard.
Pitched as it is on the banks of The Black River, merging Mayo into Galway, it had a wider net to trawl from. Wonderful eccentrics like Batty, Laddie, Aiden (the cuz) and Mairtín Jim crossed the bridge regularly to ply their trade and entertain in the hostelries of the village and wherever two or three were gathered.
Shrule was the better for their visits but, in fairness, no other village was as tolerant or appreciated the presence of the unconventional. If truth be told it serves as a kind of mecca to the peculiar and the enigmatic. But life went on as life does and slowly, but surely, they slipped away quietly into that good night.
For close on three decades Raphael was the principal of the village cast in Shrule.
A gifted plaster in his day he could enhance the ceiling on the Sistine. Shrule had a reputation of drinking the wool before the sheep were shorn but Raphael had few equals when it came to the actual shearing. He’d have given the best sheep shearer in New South Wales a run for his money.
But like us all he too had his demons and Raphael opted for the road less taken and away from the millwheel. Unlike our ogres, who we try to keep securely locked in the cupboard of our lives, Raphael’s skeletons were a tad more outgoing. They tended to amble along with him.
To his eternal credit he never allowed them offend or harm anyone. A more gentle soul never came over the R334 to the village. Daily he took his place in a crouched position at the wall near the phone box or some suitable vantage point. And regardless of the inclemency of the weather, Raphael went toe to toe with the elements. He was an ever-present with an exemplary attendance record.
His needs were simple; Assumpta and the girls provided the odd haircut when needed, someone else the bit of sustenance, and others the lift home with the bale of briquettes as night nodded towards another day.
And long before the EU/IMF came to our shores, Raphael could orchestrate his own bit of a bailout if necessary. Another first for Shrule.
His demands were minimal. He always applied the pretence it was for some other purchase. The required tender was normally equivalent to the price of a pint. A tariff enough to gain entry and no more was his ask. It was for the lifting of the latch. After that he fended for himself.
When he was a bit flush his generous nature came to the fore and many a garsún enjoyed a bar of chocolate from Raphael. There was a child within.
Everyone has their own Raphael yarn to share and those little anecdotes will be recycled for years to come at the counters of Shrule.
But Shrule must unfold without Raphael now and it will be the poorer for it. Someone up there rang the golden bells to summon him from his earthly dominion. He leaves a void in Shrule that will not be filled for a long time to come.
He’d have been dead chuffed also to hear the well-spoken lady announcing his funeral notice on MWR pronounce his name as "Raf Aye Elle." He got the traditional send-off that is synonymous with Shrule funerals. He’ll be missed in passing.
We’ll leave it at that.