by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua
This week’s blog post is not about destinations or matters of interest to the meetings industry. It’s a once-off piece following the death this week of a childhood friend whom I haven’t seen for over 40 years. It’s offered in his honour.
The huge crowd spilled out the front and side doors of the church and stood in the yard, some in clusters, some alone, heads bowed in thought. You could hear the priest speaking in the church thanks to the loudspeakers fixed onto the tall conifers that make the churchyard a haven and protect it from the traffic.
You couldn’t put a precise date on the last time you saw him. Mid seventies, certainly. Definitely more than 40 years ago. He would have been no more than 13 or 14. Already way taller than you even though you were older by a year and a half. There was no decisive split. No childish fisticuffs. You just drifted apart and, strangely, given how small Dublin can be, never bumped into each other over the years.
Standing in the church yard that day listening to what was said about him by the priest, his wife and children and his older brother, the 14 year old boy of your memory became a man in his mid 50s with a loving wife, adoring adult children, a successful career, a difficult golf game and a circle of friends so large that it filled the church and half the grounds in front of it. You felt an immense loss, not just the sad loss of a childhood friend taken way before his time but the sadder, more regretful loss of all you missed by not being part of his wonderful life.
He was your first real friend. Part of a bigger group of neighbourhood kids that hung around together playing endless games of “three and in”, he went to your school, was a class behind, but, at a certain stage, you found something in common beyond mere games and activities. You shared the same nascent view of the world, worked from a similar embryonic value system.
Thinking back, he wasn’t a skillful soccer player, the dominant street sport of the time. He talked all the time about rugby and couldn’t wait to get to De La Salle college where – you now know – he played Junior and Senior Cup rugby. It seems rugby was a big part of his subsequent life too and, like you, he trained juvenile rugby and was a season ticket holder at Leinster.
He was a big reader then (he loved Biggles, and, I think, P.G. Woodhouse) and this literary bent seemed to have endured throughout his life – his love of crosswords was mentioned and a copy of a Bill Bryson book (you’ve read them all too) was part of the offertory procession at the funeral mass.
He hadn’t a note in his head when it came to singing – that you recall emphatically. It meant he didn’t share your growing interest in playing guitar and writing songs, an interest that became defining for you as your life unfolded. He did follow you enthusiastically, however, into the beguiling, bewitching world of music. You were certainly the only teenagers in the area that listened to Donovan and Lindisfarne and this musical sophistication and discernment obviously persisted for him too as a John Prine CD represented his love of music at the funeral mass.
His brother presented a beautiful chronology of his life, answering all the questions you had about the 40 + years since your paths diverged. His was a life of highs and hardships, victories and vicissitudes, of determined successes and dignified resignations, accompanied by lots of laughter and the warm, fun embrace of friends. From what his brother said he was in a really good place when, mysteriously, he left us.
Since the funeral he has occupied many thoughtful moments. You’ve struggled and continue to struggle with the gnawing regret of not finally knowing the wonderful person he became. You could have golfed together or had a pint after a Friday match at the RDS or a walk and catch-up with the dogs.
That won’t happen now.
But amidst the sadness and regret there’s also gratitude: the gratitude of having known him at a hugely impressionable time of vital, essential growth, when personality, attitude and values are formed; the gratitude of knowing that, at a crucial time in your developing lives, you shared important years together, becoming, in a small way, the persons you both were and are as a result of knowing each other.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis