Alan Harris 1940-2021 Alan Harris wore many coats lightly. Over the course of his life he was a creator, an entrepreneur, a restauranteur, a teacher, a bookkeeper, a carpenter, an administrator and a leading light in Dublin’s Jewish Progressive Congregation.
But, above all else, he was a husband, a father and a grandfather.
He was born on Bloomsday 1940 and, like many Irish people who reached adulthood in the late 1950s, had little option but to emigrate to London in search of work. He served an apprenticeship as a watchmaker and when he wasn’t making things tick, the young Irish boy was swinging in time to the heady sound of London’s nascent music scene. He loved to boast in later years about seeing both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones play live in dingy clubs when they were at their absolute prime.
He returned to Ireland as the 1960s became the 1970s and opened a restaurant in Dublin’s north inner city. He had a narrow escape in the middle of May 1974 when three bombs rocked the city. Dozens died and many more were seriously injured. The windows in his restaurant were blown in as he went about his day and his business all but destroyed.
He kept going though and worked hard at making his small enterprise work again. It was to his very good fortune that he did. A young woman from Wexford who had found a flat on nearby Gardiner Street used to call in on the way home from work for her tea and they got talking before eventually going on a date. He married Cathy soon afterwards and in the summer of 1981 his daughter Sonia was born.
The long hours and the late nights in the restaurant were at odds with the family life he wanted with his wife and daughter so he sold the business and he and Cathy opened a clothes wholesaler on South William Street.
Fast forward a decade, by which time he had turned his hand to computers. He taught himself how to program and then designed computer software for businesses. He also taught the Loretto nuns in Rathfarnham how to use computers and built a database of all the sisters for them.
More than a decade ago, he helped Sonia set up her own PR business in Dublin and managed the accounts with an assiduous eye right up until the day he went into hospital after contracting Covid-19 early this year.
Just over three years ago his granddaughter Ruby was born and on first meeting her when she was less than 12 hours old, it was love at first sight. He wore gloves when he held her in his arms on that day, just in case she would feel the cold of his hands. He sang to her – in a voice that was always more strong than tuneful – and he spoiled her, as he did her sisters Molly and Juliette.
He had to be talked out of buying Ruby a mini-Mercedes for her second birthday but could not be dissuaded from buying her very first bike when she turned three last December. He watched with pride and delight as she fearlessly hopped on to the saddle and set off down a busy road chased by her distinctly less fearless dad, who happens to be this writer.
Alan took such care to keep himself and Cathy safe once Covid-19 entered our world. He stayed at home for months, leaving the house only to walk his beloved dogs late at night when no one was around. Although he spoke to them both via FaceTime every day, he saw his daughter and granddaughter only very occasionally over the course of 2020 – and always outdoors. A long planned and long looked forward to Christmas Day dinner was postponed and replaced by a drive-by present drop full of laughter and good cheer, despite the strangeness of the times.
Alan contracted Covid-19 following an outpatient hospital visit in early January and died on February 19th, with both Cathy and Sonia holding his hands as he slipped away.