An Irishman's Diary

Tue, Jan 22, 2013, 00:00

We buried him with the old year on December 31st though he was barely of a September age. Pat Connaughton and his wife Eilis, both teachers, had taken early retirement in 2010. Their four children reared and educated, it seemed they were set for an Indian summer in their lives. It was not to be.

He had a heart by-pass in November, got pneumonia in December, and died three days after Christmas.

We had known one another since university days in Galway. Then, as since, he was always associated with craic. Mention his name among our extended Galway gang and the response is a spontaneous smile. To us he was “Pateen”, that West of Ireland diminutive of his first name a sign of special affection.

His Rockin Robin was just one party piece – Knockcroghery another. It was a song about his Roscommon homeplace composed as a dare by Peadar Kearney, who wrote the national anthem, but was challenged to write a lyric where he could rhyme a word with Knockcroghery. And Pat was co-creator with the rest of us from those College days in inventing “The Lancer”, an energetic legs and elbows dance named after a particularly potent bottled lager.

As a Wexford woman remarked in Bunclody at his funeral, “He taught us how to enjoy ourselves”. Then, he was among willing students. He also taught pupils at the FCJ school there how to enjoy English. They liked him for it. On Ratemyteachers.comthey awarded him the maximum five stars.

Indeed, they loved him for it. At his removal in Bunclody, as the huge crowd gathered, a young man in his 20s clung to his girlfriend with tears streaming down his face.

Pat had a way with kids. There was one young lad who, when Pat asked the class to write an essay on Jack and the Beanstalk from the cow’s point of view, responded with 12 pages of “Moo, moo, moo? . . . Moo, moo! . . . Moo, moo, moo”, etc. Pat gave him an A, the first A the child ever got.

Such was the emotional intelligence of an exceptional teacher and exceptional man.

He also excelled at theatre. He won all-Ireland awards for direction and acting, with both the Bunclody and Enniscorthy drama groups, and had acted with Druid before having to make that tough choice between family and stage.

In the decades we had known each other we fell out just once and that was over God. A group of us were in Clare and at O’Connor’s pub in Doolin the rift suddenly emerged. Up to then we had both revelled in that certainty which is the gift of youth and inexperience. And always on the same side.

But suddenly there in Doolin neither could understand how the other had suddenly become so irrational. He seemed to think my doubting the existence of God was gratuitous and I was angry that he would doubt my sincerity. We left the pub separately.

Later that night Eilis came to my tent and said, “Ye have to sort this out.” So we three went for a long walk in the dark, the stars winking at us from infinity above. It was useless. But the anger was gone, replaced by a sense of loss.

Over time we “parked” God and got on with the friendship. Though God did make guest appearances. A few years later we were at another reunion of our Galway gang. This time it was in Newmarket, Co Cork where a couple from the group then lived. Very much later Pat and I went for another long walk, this time through the early morning Cork countryside.

When we got back near the town I noticed Sunday Mass was beginning in the church. As a gesture, I suggested we attend. We stood at the back like the countrymen we were, reeking of alcohol and cigarettes. We agreed on the beauty and simplicity of the “Our Father”, whether as lyric or prayer. But I knew he wished I could feel it as he did. And for my sake.

Afterwards, he led the way to a pub where he knew we would get in at that hour. I never did find out how he knew this. And it was one great mystery I had the grace to just accept.

Soon we were “discovered” by others from the gang who greeted us with a mixture of relief and rage. They had been searching everywhere and were about to call the guards. We, who they deemed lost, had been found.

At Pat’s removal there was a reading from Luke’s gospel account of the resurrection, where two angels ask the grieving women, “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?” We won’t ever search for Pat among the dead. He continues to live among us, his family and friends. He will do so for as long as we live.

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