Trim comes together to organise proper farewell for beloved local

Co Meath community raises funds to give Margaret Lang (58) a funeral

A community has shown real Christmas spirit by raising more than €5,000 to pay for  the funeral of a much-loved local resident, Margaret Lang, who died alone last week. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

A community has shown real Christmas spirit by raising more than €5,000 to pay for the funeral of a much-loved local resident, Margaret Lang, who died alone last week. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Margaret Lang’s plain wooden coffin was wheeled into St Patrick’s Church in Trim, Co Meath. Fifty locals walked beside and behind – a community escorting her to her funeral Mass.

In the porch, Fr Sean Henry welcomed them. “You are her family today,” he said to the neighbours and townspeople who had arranged and fundraised for the funeral of a pauper who had lived amongst them.

As the procession entered the large and beautiful church, organist Miriam Mooney played In the Bleak Midwinter, beginning what might have been a bleak funereal occasion, but which became uplifting.

Margaret Lang was known to many in Trim as the lady in the high-viz jacket. She was a solitary figure for the most part, padding harmlessly about the streets, greeting people as they hoved into view; helping out here and there (especially with the St Patrick’s Day parade) and drinking rather more than was good for her.

But everyone liked her. Somehow, Margaret wriggled her way into their affections. No one had a bad word to say about her, despite her somewhat dissolute life.

There was a pattern to how she lived.

Judge and Jury Pub

Four days a week, she and her friend Dorothy Jones would meet at 10.30 in the morning, before heading off to the Judge and Jury pub.

Margaret was last seen alive on Sunday December 9th, when she dropped into a neighbour in Mornington Green to borrow a cup of sugar. Next day, Dorothy called, as usual. Meeting no response, she got worried. So did others.

On the Tuesday, Margaret was found dead inside the house, alone. She was just 58.

It was assumed that she had no one in her life, no family, so Judge and Jury owner Richie Walsh sprung into action, along with local undertaker Declan Rispin of McEvoy’s.

Funds would be raised, the community would rally and Margaret would be given a decent send-off. Donations were collected – mostly small sums of €1 to €5, accumulating quickly to over €6,000.

Local garda Owen Ganley said he would try to track down relatives, if there were any; apart from a son, separated from her as a baby when she was a teenager, none were known.

People toss flowers into Margaret Lang’s grave at her funeral in Trim, Co Meath on Thursday. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times
People toss flowers into Margaret Lang’s grave at her funeral in Trim, Co Meath on Thursday. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

But on Friday, John Neary from Mayo and Jean Ford from Liverpool, Margaret’s hitherto unknown half-brother and half-sister, were in Trim to say goodbye to a relative introduced to them only in death.

“We shared a mother,” said Jean, adding that there were two more half-sisters, Kathleen and Mary, also living in England.

“We never knew her,” John said of Margaret, “we never met the woman.”

Embraced

Richie Walsh showed them around the town, the places where Margaret had lived. Both were impressed by a community that had embraced her in life, and death.

The 50 or so mourners sat at the front of St Patrick’s. The congregation was swelled by about a further 100 people, many of them there for the regular morning Mass.

After reading from St Luke (Mary’s greeting of Elizabeth), Fr Henry said she had been “very much part of Trim”, recalling memories of a 1960s child who was “dressed like a model and had pigtails” and loved to play hopscotch.

Margaret was not raised by her mother but by her grandparents, William and Sarah Lang, who were members of the Church of Ireland. William died in 1964, followed in 1983 by Sarah (by which time Margaret was 23), and Margaret “was heartbroken and alone”.

The next years were “not happy”, said the priest, though Margaret was “held in much affection and high regard by her neighbours”.

Soloist Gwen Bagnall sang Abide With Me, Amazing Grace and Be Still (For the Presence of the Lord); as Margaret’s coffin, dressed with a large spray of white lilies and greenery, was escorted from the church by Dorothy Jones and Margaret’s Mornington Green neighbours Mim, Michelle and Martina, organist Miriam Mooney played The Old Rugged Cross, a nod to Margaret’s Protestant heritage.

Though a regular Mass-goer, Margaret was to be buried in the graveyard attached to St Patrick’s Church of Ireland cathedral. The community walked her there through the town.

Cathedral bell

As a single cathedral bell tolled, the Dean, the Very Rev Paul Bogle, said: “Christ entered our world as a vulnerable little baby. He identified with our human experience; he knew joy and sorrow, love and pain.”

She loved animals. She took in every stray dog

She was lowered into the ground in the shadow of a mature Yew tree.

Declan Rispin distributed long-stem yellow roses from a wicker basket. Margaret’s big family of friends, neighbours and newly found relatives tossed them into her, one by one.

“We had a good laugh together,” said Dorothy. “We just clicked.”

“She loved animals,” said Michelle. “She took in every stray dog.”

But it was Martina who perhaps captured the essence of the moment.

“She was just a gentle soul who deserved a send-off,” she said.

She’s sharing her grave now with William and Sarah. Their headstone has fallen backwards, dislodged from its setting, and lies on the ground.

Declan Rispin got a brush and some water and cleaned the slab, exposing their names – and ample space for Margaret’s.

“We’ll get that fixed,” he said, wiping it down.