Shoot for the moon.
Even if you miss it
You will land among the stars
Lester Louis Brown (American journalist)
As we bade farewell to Florina on the side of a bleak hillside in Breaffy in early February, our fingers were numbed by a bitter wind from the east. But the numbness in our fingers could not compare with the numbness in our souls as we contemplated a young life, full of energy and zest, snuffed out in its prime. Sitting on the cold clay, Joe Burke, her mentor, played a final farewell to someone very special to all of us and the sweet notes of Róisín Dubh crept down over the hillside and into the village below. The tall beech trees looked down on us in sorrow. The budding crocuses peered up tearfully– their sprouting buds in direct contradiction to a life cut short as it was in bloom.
Florina was special to all of us. Someone who lived life to the full. She was full of energy and zest for life. She filled in more in that short 18 years than another person would achieve in sixty odd years or more. She was full of love and kindness, joy and enthusiasm, care and consideration for others. Her faith and hope were lived out to the end. Those last six months of her life, when she was ravaged by a cruel illness, were lived out with dignity and courage, fortitude and good humour. Not for her to sit back and accept life’s cruel hand. Life had to be lived. Other people had to be thought of. And that is what she did. Throughout her illness she never complained and her foremost thoughts were always of others.
Our thoughts and memories of Florina are many and varied. But I suppose we will first and foremost remember her as a musician. A musician of the highest calibre. A young woman who possessed enormous talent and used that talent for her own enjoyment and the enjoyment of others. In our mind’s eye we will always see her as she strode the highways and byways of Ireland competing at fleadhanna and feiseanna and attending summer schools - being part of the action.
From the high street in Drumshambo to the hills of Donegal, from Tubbercurry to Clonmel, from Ballinamore to wherever you wish to mention, Florina was there. She shared sessions with the cream of Irish traditional music. We will always cherish memories of the many fine sessions on bright sunny evenings on the high street in Drumshambo.
Indeed her last big session was in that town last July some two weeks before she received her heartbreaking news. In the foyer of the beautiful Ramada Hotel, on the shores of Lough Allen, she joined the front runners of Irish Trad as the music played on into the early hours. It was testament to the high regard in which she was held, for one of so tender years, by the frontrunners of contemporary Irish traditional music.
Little did we think back then, as the moon shone in a clear sky on a glorious Leitrim night in July, that this would be Florina’s swan song? Little did we know that such a session would be no more? Shortly after returning from Co Leitrim she took ill and was diagnosed with a serious illness. That night will forever be etched in my memory as I recall a talented young musician called home in her prime. She had so much to offer. She had so much promise. Who was it said that the ripest fruit first fall? But the ways of God are strange and one can only conclude that He was short of a good box player up above.
But there was more to Florina than music. Her care and concern for others were always to the fore. She never complained throughout her illness and her concerns were always for others. She always had the word of support for everybody and was forever in a jovial and positive humour. Other people’s worries and difficulties were of more concern to her than her own illness. Her own illness was secondary.
I last met Florina three weeks before she died. As we parted company that Sunday evening, little did we realise that this was to be our last meeting. The suddenness of her death in the finish has numbed us all. She was her usual bubbly self that day. Full of life and humour. She spoke of her preparations for entry to training college in the autumn. She had been offered a place in the training college last autumn but had to defer it because of her illness.
As we gathered together for her Funeral Mass in Breaffy Church to celebrate 18 years spent to the full, our minds were charged with reminiscences. Though numbed, we could not but see the light. Many of the leading fraternity of Irish traditional music were present to say their last good byes. The presence of such luminaries as Joe and Ann Burke, Nuala Hehir, Eileen O’Brien, Pat Early and Michael Searson among others, playing at the Funeral Mass, once again reflects the high regard in which she was held by the music fraternity in Ireland as a whole.
Fr Michael Nohilly, in his thought-provoking sermon, summed her up to a tee. He spoke for all of us. We are in awe that so much could be fitted into that short eighteen years. One feels privileged to have known her. One feels privileged that she had influenced others and for a parent to know that their child was under her influence was reassuring.
The box is now silent. The fiddle is idle. A box and a fiddle that spread joy and entertainment throughout the island of Ireland. A light has been quenched in the west. A light that was there for everybody. But all is not lost. A new star has appeared in the sky. And as the star of David guided Mary and Joseph to the stable two thousand years ago, may that new star in the sky be a source of courage and inspiration to all young musicians. May it encourage and enable them to use their talents to the full and to share them with others.
Shine down on us Flo and guide us out of the darkness where we now find ourselves at this time of sorrow and emptiness. Be a source of light and comfort to Joe and Breda who miss you enormously. We all miss you Flo.
Your likes will not be around here again.