I attended a reception and vigil at Saint Margaret’s church in Whitecrook for Emma Sweeney (nee Hegarty). We used to call it taking the coffin into the chapel. I had to google Saint Margaret’s, it just shows you the last time I’ve been in a chapel. I found out it was my old school stamping ground of Whitecrook, old habits die hard, I took a padlock bigger than my bike. My plans were to pay my respects, slip in and out and hand one of the family a condolence card in the passing. I got to North Elgin Street and Mrs Sweeney’s hearse was in front of me and it slowed to funeral pace. I had to get off my bike and walk behind it. A cortege of one. So much for a quiet entrance. The family must have wondered who the baldy old guy in a pair of shorts and t-shirt was trailing behind the coffin.
I gave Hugh, the oldest surviving son, my condolence card. He said it was cancer and it was fast. His mother had been in Saint Margaret’s Hospice and looked up to see him sitting at the side of the bed and said ‘I’m still here’. Sense of humour and self-effacing the things that glue us.
I didn’t know her first name, because you always just called her Mrs Sweeney. That’s what we done in those days when we were sixteen or seventeen and old people in their forties were like trees, something you looked up to and took for granted. But we called Mr Sweeney, Sporter. He was married to the same sweet colleen for sixty years. Clichéd I know. More Irish than St Patrick and the Irish shamrock. He was Irish before Bono was Irish. And the house on Shelley Drive was a proud little Dublin enclave on the banks of Clydebank High.
Mr and Mrs Sweeney were always glad to see you and their traditional New Year Party stretched back to a time Shirley hadn’t even married yet, and good Catholic girl that she was, she got married at thirteen or thereabouts. The New Year Party stretched back to a time when the Bermuda triangle of Jas was there and Billy Quinn and my own unexploded brother Stephen (Sev ya bass!) were there sinking drink and making their lives disappear with a gallus don’t-give-a- fuck nonchalance that no longer exists. Hugh was too sensible. He got out before it swallowed him.
Neil was my mate and I trusted him enough to cash my giro on a Thursday and share with him, because he got his giro the following Wednesday. We had to buy three cases of beer at New Year for the party in his house because the shops the next day weren’t open. Mate or no mate, he made sure I understood he wasn’t sharing if I ran out. But in the Sweeney house you always had a full glass.
The price was too high of course. Mrs Sweeney and her cronies urging you to sink a glass and sing a wee song. Neil had a voice like a bandsaw with no teeth, but he didn’t let that stop him laying it on. He knew every rebel song since cool ma cool. Even drunk the price was too high for me. You’d get let off with a courtesy yellow card and a warning it would by your turn to sing the next time. Aye, right.
You end up talking about something else than Mrs Sweeney, end up talking about yourself and your family. Because that’s the way it is. Self-effacing. Mrs Sweeney was her family. Your mum is the one you love. I don’t know if you understand that better when you’re younger or older, but when she dies then you understand best that love does not die with her. Resurrection comes in many flowers. In our hurried lives I’ll be taking time to attend the funeral of a remarkably unremarkable woman that gave all to her family and never stopped giving. RIP.