This is my favourite photo of my cousin Orla with her two boys Eoin and Aidan, but you know how I love all things nautical. Yesterday Orla departed on her last voyage from this plane and now it is up to us to send her off with all the pomp and drama of a Pharaoh boarding a solar barge or a viking on a funeral ship.
What can I say about Orla? Nothing better can be said than these words from another of my cousins, Mark C. O’Flaherty and if you follow the link on his name you will see he is a genius with a camera. Not content with his visual genius he puts me to shame with the quality of his writing too. I have read this quite a few times and it makes me tear up every one.
I hate today
One of the best things about being part of a huge and amazing Irish family is that you are gifted, as a birthright, a lot of ready-made best mates. I spent a lot of time in Dublin growing up, and all my friends there were also my cousins. Every summer was full of the most brilliant adventures. My first memory of Orla was as a brattish little girl, five years younger than me, absolutely petrified of the Devil mask I had persuaded my uncle to buy me to go trick or treating with. I took delight in chasing her around the house while she screamed her head off and wept … if she was a brat, I was a horrible little shit. But, you know … *kids*. As we grew up, she became really special to me. A five year difference doesn’t mean much when you are in your 30s and 40s. I remember being SO happy when she finally had the family she had wanted for so long – with monstrous pain and disappointment along the way. I sat in her house in Clonakilty and felt a tinge of jealousy at how great her life was – her first little boy, Eoin, was being the most adorable little weirdo, playing with Neil and two giant cuddly Bert and Ernies, and muttering incoherent hilarious nonsense, and for one afternoon I totally “got” why people have kids. Orla was SO HAPPY. But then she always seemed so happy. Which was one of the reasons why she was always my favourite cousin and why I loved her so much. Her joy and wit was infectious. When she walked in the room for her surprise 40th birthday party in Roganstown and everyone cheered the loudest cheer possible, I realised all of us felt the same way about her … She, meanwhile, found it utterly hilarious that I was hemmed in by so many riotous obnoxious children that I was in some way related to. “Ha, Mark! You must be loving this!” And actually I was.
Orla was always the person I wanted to spend time with the most when we were all together in Dublin as a family. I thought I’d always feel like that. But today she is gone. At 42. Leaving two young boys and all of us heartbroken, with half a lifetime or more taken away from her, and us. I feel heavy and numb and weird and a unique mixture of loss and frustration. I am far from home and I can’t comprehend how awful our family feels in Ireland right now, after spending the last few days with her. It is unjust and unfathomable. I am trying to find some solace in the fact that Orla absolutely knew how loved she was, but I can’t really, and I just want her back, waiting for me, with her madly bright smile, beside the bar with her boys Eoin and Aidan, my Auntie Phyllis and Uncle Frank, her brothers Conor and Garrett and her husband Ian at the next family party in Dublin.
We are all heartbroken today and I hate it
In memory of my mother; by Patrick Kavanagh
I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
you walking down a lane among the poplars
on your way to the station, or happily
going to second Mass on a summer Sunday –
you meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘
among your earthiest words the angels stray.
And I think of you walking along a headland
of green oats in June,
so full of repose, so rich with life –
and I see us meeting at the end of a town
on a fair day by accident, after
the bargains are all made and we can walk
together through the shops and stalls and markets
free in the oriental streets of thought.
O you are not lying in the wet clay,
for it is a harvest evening now and we
are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
and you smile up at us – eternally.