I was honoured to give a eulogy for him at his funeral mass.
But I thought my elder brother, Eddie, grasped hold of an elusive thing in his own eulogy at our final (for now) farewell.
I asked him if I could record it here and he kindly agreed.
Michael (obscured) with Eddie (centre) on Lough Gill with Dad, in his Boat
Michael and Me
This short story, which I call ‘Michael and Me’, is me explaining to you what I mean when I say to Michael, ‘I’ll see you on White Shore’. If I fall apart in the telling, bear with me and we’ll make it through it together.
The last verse of the poem by Máirtín Ó Direáin ‘An tEarrach Thiar’ /’The Western Spring’:
Ag maidí rámha
Currach lán éisc
Ag teacht chun cladaigh
Ar ór-mhuir mhall
I ndeireadh lae;
San Earrach thiar.
Gentle lapping of oars
As a currach full of fish
Comes towards the shore
On a calm golden sea
In the Western Spring.
Michael and me spent many of our years fishing. On the river, in short trousers, we’d be up at ‘the Slip’, that was where the boats went into the river, up opposite the Jail road. Fishing for eels, we’d dig up the worms and put them in a jam jar full of clay, but Michael wouldn’t put the worms on the hook, that was my job.
On Lough Gill. We’d be up early in the morning getting ready to ‘head up the lake’, Mam would be making the sandwiches while we’d be grabbing the breakfast and ‘getting the boats ready.
“I’ll bring up the oars and the engine while you bail out the boat”.
‘Up’ was up to the ‘Steps’ - the gaps in the wall where the boats sat in the river.
As the years went on, we got our own boats and engines, Michael had a white 8 HP Honda 4-stroke engine that didn’t burn oil, unlike my 1½ HP 2-stroke Seagull that did. I loved the smell it left in its wake, Michael was already more environmentally conscious, even way back when I didn’t know what that meant.
‘Where’ll I meet ye for tea?’ was a common conversation.
‘I’ll see ya on White Shore,’ was all that was needed. White Shore is at the top of the lake, a long way up. That was enough.
We’d head when we were ready, up the river, through the Narrows and out onto the lake. I might head up the back of Beezie’s island, around by Goat island into Benowna bay, then cut across the Sandy ridge at Church island, out past the Cormorant rocks and up Corwillick. Michael might head up the Shellhouse, hit out to Perr Rock from the Castle Point and up through the Rookeries.
If I was in first, I’d be gathering the sticks. He’d come in and start lighting the fire. Smokey tea from the black kettle, boiled on the fire, and Mam’s sandwiches. Hanging out with your big brother, doing what we loved. That was the life.
When we’d be pushing out the boats after the tea, we’d part with, ‘I’ll see you when we get down’. ‘Down’ was back home off the lake.
Back at the steps in the evening it’d be, ‘I’ll bring down the engines and oars while you tie up the boats.’
* * * *
A friend – someone who may or may not be there when you don’t need them but is always there when you do. That was Michael and me.
I have two oak trees in my back garden that commemorate Mam and Dad’s passing. Mam’s one is over 15ft tall and Dad’s is about 10ft. Michael grew them from acorns.
I have a chestnut tree in my front garden. The conversation went, ‘Ah sure take it, or it’ll die. It’s a native species, not like those two red oaks you have at your gates’. He could talk ya into anything. So there’s a chestnut tree in my front garden. It’s been struggling since it went in but I suspect it’ll thrive from now on. Now, suddenly, it’s my commemoration for him.
* * * *
Michael and me loved our music, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan were high on the list. We loved fantasy and science fiction, the Lord of the Rings was high on that list. Ken and me picked three songs, one from Cohen, one from Dylan and one from the Lord of the Rings.
Cohen’s ‘Alexandra Leaving’ depicts the Lord of Love hoisting his friend up on his shoulders, to carry her home. I liken his depiction to what’s happening here today:
Michael hoisted on his shoulders
They slip between the sentries of the heart
Michael and me did the ‘Plans of the House’ for Carrie and me. Who else? We knew what we wanted, he helped us build our dream home and helped make our dreams come true.
Dylan describes Michael and me eloquently:
I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love
The last song ‘Into the West’, from the closing scene of the Lord of the Rings, covers the last thing I’ll say today for Michael and me. Annie Lennox will do it justice, I’ll leave you with a few of the more poignant lines:
Your sweet and weary head
night is falling
You have come to journey's end
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across the distant shore
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home
We have come now to the end
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again