‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’

Commemorative service for deceased ‘Irish Times’ colleagues in Dublin next Saturday

Poet Seamus Heaney:  is buried in a corner of St Mary’s churchyard, under ash and sycamore trees. The Scullions lie between him, his baby brother Christopher, his mother, his father, his two aunts and his sister Anne

Poet Seamus Heaney: is buried in a corner of St Mary’s churchyard, under ash and sycamore trees. The Scullions lie between him, his baby brother Christopher, his mother, his father, his two aunts and his sister Anne

 

O death where is thy sting? Last August I was in Ballaghy, Co Derry, for an event marking the first anniversary of poet Seamus Heaney’s death. Having reported on his funeral in Dublin, I was reminded there that the sting of death endures in those left behind. That is its victory.

Heaney is buried in a corner of St Mary’s churchyard, under ash and sycamore trees. The Scullions lie between him, his baby brother Christopher, his mother, his father, his two aunts and his sister Anne.

Where Seamus was concerned, as a Ballaghy woman explained: “Fr Dolan [the parish priest] felt he should have a place of his own.”

The resonant sting was in wording on the Heaney family gravestone. It reads: “Erected by Patrick Heaney in memory of his son Christopher, died 25th February 1953 aged 3.” No felt sting of death compares with that which offends the natural order.

In Mid-Term Break Seamus recalled the death of Christopher and its effect:

In the porch I met my father crying

He had always taken funerals in his stride

And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram When I came in, and I was embarrassed By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were ‘sorry for my trouble’,

Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest, Away at school, as my mother held my hand In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.

Here at The Irish Times we’ve had too much of offensive death lately. There has been the majority, those for whom death had kindly stopped, men and women who lived full working lives, retired and enjoyed an acceptable level of extra time.But some were ripped from us without warning. Three such colleagues took part in five-a-side football at the paper and in a wonderful tribute to them last March, Damian Cullen wrote:

“Our weekly game has attracted every class of player. And you couldn’t have found three more different than Seán, Brian and Carl.

“Despite playing well into his 50s, Seán was able to tap into experience and a canny knack of knowing when to spend five minutes between the posts (an honoured tradition among five-a-side games where everyone is a goalkeeper) – and conserving energy for the final frantic minutes of play, when the game was inevitably always up for grabs. Even when one side was dominating, someone was bound to announce: ‘Next goal is the winner.’

“At the other end of the spectrum, Brian (24) was young, fast, skilful, and playing regularly in higher-quality matches .

“At 36, Carl can be placed somewhere in between, a few years past prime on a pitch but regularly turning it on when the game was for the taking. He could find the net with (depending on which side you were on) annoying or wonderful frequency.

“All three were members of the weekly game in The Irish Times, though workload and shift patterns interfered frequently for many.

“All three have died over the past 15 months: Seán Flynn, former education editor in January of last year; Brian Morrissey, with the marketing and advertising department, at Christmas; and sports writer Carl O’Malley, just a few months ago, after taking ill while playing football.

“The impact pales in comparison to how their untimely deaths devastated their families, but each loss rocked their colleagues and team-mates to the core.”

In a small community such as The Irish Times such young deaths are deeply felt. It was the case too with another popular colleague, David Sleator, joint picture editor, who died suddenly last August at the age of 53.

Those four, and 22 others who died in retirement over the past two years, will be remembered at a commemorative service for deceased Irish Times colleagues in the Unitarian Church on St Stephen’s Green in Dublin from noon next Saturday.

Unitarians hold a wide range of beliefs reflecting varying religious traditions and none, as at the paper.

The service is open to all, but particularly to family, friends and colleagues attempting to sooth the sting left by dearly deceased.

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