Mary Burke: Life Summary & Eulogy

Today, we want to thank you publicly, mam. From the bottom of our broken hearts, we thank you for everything you have done for us.

Life Summary of MARY BURKE

● Born Kilcaroon, near Clogheen in Co. Tipperary
● Moved to Cahir Boarding School on a scholarship
● Moved to Dungarvan after her leaving certificate to work in Waterford County
● Meeting Dad every morning on the way to mass
● Married in 1957 and had 8 children
● Much financial stress had a big impact on Mary’s and Michael's mental health
● Illnesses she bore with fortitude: scarlet fever, TB, Depression, Cancer even Covid
● Lost her son Gary suddenly in 1993 and her husband Michael in 1996
● Woman of deep faith, daily mass goer, studied scripture and reforms of Vatican II, member of local prayer group for years, co-facilitated Síol Retreats
● Keen sense of social justice and an awareness of others' needs. As a young woman she volunteered to go with doctors when they were testing people for TB despite it being contagious and she later caught herself and spent 3 years in a convalescent home in Waterford.
● She instilled a sense of justice in her family from a young age by showing compassion for others, for example on Saturdays we would have dinner without meat and the savings were put in a jar and at the end of every year the savings were given to her favourite charity
● The pen was always mightier than the sword for her and she had no fear of writing letters challenging injustices or inequalities she saw around her.
● She also worked as a volunteer with MABS in a very discreet and respectful way
● Love of reading learning and education. Even in her 70’s she used to do a night-course every Autumn, for example French, archaeology, journalism etc
● Hobbies: reading, current affairs, gardening and even hill walking with the Dungarvan group
● Dementia: As dementia robbed her of her memories and ability to function she accepted gracefully the help she needed. For such an independent minded woman this was extraordinary for us to see. She had a smile for all those who helped her.


My eulogy for mam, delivered with love at her funeral on the 2nd of February:

For the benefit of those of you who don’t know me, my name is Pat, and I am Mary’s eldest son.  

I have my sister Elaine with me, and she is under instruction to help me if things go weepy!

I shall be reasonably brief. Probably about 8 minutes, maybe 9 if I need to take in a few deep breaths here and there. Mam would say, shur take your time! I’m not going anywhere!

There are many many people that we want to thank, and in due course every single one of them will be thanked, but I want to make very special mention of just 4. First and foremost, our sisters Michele and Elaine have been mam’s main carers since 2014. They have had an incredible devotion to mam and an attention all the details of mam’s needs.

I also want to thank Michele’s sons, Shane and Gary. For the past 9 years, throughout their teenage years and beyond, they shared their mam with Mary. They learned how love works, as they saw Michele and the rest of us in the house every day. For this, we express our deep appreciation.

OK, now I want to change tack entirely…

I want to address my words directly to mam. You are here with us today, mam, and I want to say a few words just to you.

In recent years, your memory faded, at first slowly, and at a rapid rate since 2020. When I’d be bringing you back to Michele’s house after a visit to the hairdresser, it would be very usual for you to ask: Whose house is this? In fact, if you were alive today, you’d be sitting down there, and you would quietly tap one of us on the hand and ask Whose house is this? It’s the house of God, mam.

Oh right, thank you.

Today, we want to thank you publicly. From the bottom of our broken hearts, we thank you for everything you have done for us.

Your eight sons and daughters have been shaped by your love for us. Our dad Michael was shaped by your love for him, and it’s very likely that many of your grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, friends and neighbours present here today (and others who cannot be here) have been shaped by you to some extent.

Rather than go into the details of your long life, I’d like to remind you of a few little stories. I’ll tell them to you because you’ve forgotten them!

You loved writing, and you loved writing letters to right a wrong, as was mentioned earlier. Council officials, newspapers, health service, RTÉ and so on. On the strength of one such letter, you secured the first bus shelter in Dungarvan. She did not want people to be waiting in the rain. Another was the removal of an ugly hoarding outside the old Ormonde Hotel on O’Connell Street. The footpath was completely blocked for months at a very narrow pinch point, and you helped get it sorted.

And you would say, Did I?

While we know you and dad had a deep love for one another, we also know times were very tough throughout your married life. This was mainly due to financial stress, as the rules at the time dictated that you had to give up your well-paid job. This had a significant impact on your mental health as well as dad’s, but you both found a way to manage by joining GROW Mental Health Group.

Despite financial hardship you still managed to dress very stylishly, something dad loved. How did you do it? You were an amazing money manager. You would buy a coat in the January sales and spend the rest of the year looking out for matching hat, shoes and bag etc. Many years later, you donated outfits you no longer wore to Vincent de Paul or the charity shops. But here’s the thing… As well as the old ones, you would give one outfit that you still liked. When we quizzed you about this, you would tell us that giving to others is not just about giving away things you don’t want. There has to be some sacrifice.

And so we learned, that in giving there is love. We are here today to honour your life of giving. Truthfully, we have devoted ourselves to your full time care since 2014. We know how difficult it became in recent years and months, but you were so appreciative of our help. Considering that your greatest fear was losing your mind, you accepted your rapidly changing circumstances with remarkable dignity and fortitude, mixed with toppings of oblivion. In fact, just two weeks ago, when Elaine mentioned leaving the bedside light turned so that she could pop in to check on you, you said.. Why? Do you think I’m not well?

And so, as your 91 year earthly journey comes to a conclusion, we are here today for you. Everything is ok. We supported you, because that’s what you spent your life doing for us. We will be leaving shortly. Is that OK?

And you would say… Yes, that’s fine. Thank you.

Even when you had forgotten that you had just been to the hairdresser, there were two things you never forgot. You never forgot to say thank you. And secondly, you never forgot how to put a smile on our faces with a witty reply.

Would you like some lamb for your dinner? You said, “I suppose I would if it’s cooked”

Wouldn’t it be handy to have a man to rub gel into our backs? Michele said. And you said, yes, but how would we get rid of him then, when he had that done”.

Given that you were so knowledgeable about history, I brought you to the Millennial Park in Lismore and we were looking at the 1916 Easter Rising commemorative stone. You asked lots of questions and when I explained the Easter Rising, you said… That’s news to me!

Many’s the time when I was blaggarding you, mam, you would throw your eyes up to heaven  as if to say… What on earth is he on about?

I remember telling you a joke recently, and I was keen to see if you understood.

A foreigner living in Ireland had never visited a funeral home. So he asked Paddy. What do I say?

Oh, you just shake hands with the first person and say… I’m sorry for your troubles… and then just move on.

So, he went to the funeral, shook hands with the first mourner and said… “I’m sorry for your troubles. Move on!”

You didn’t understand the punchline, mam! But that’s OK. We will slowly move on with our lives, as will everyone else here who has come to bear witness to how special you are. You are special beyond words.

Of course, your reply to such a wonderful compliment would be different. I know exactly what you’d say. You’d say: Oh, I don’t know about that… but thank you anyway.

I want to finish with a farewell, not mine, but borrowed from my friend

It’s just 3 short simple sentences, mam, but I’ll need to take a big deep breath.

I love you. We love you. Go in peace.

Taken on Gary’ wedding day 1992.

Circling Around, Going Nowhere

“Tell me something, John…”, but she said no more. It was as if she were trying to figure out the question in her head for the first time.

John was used to this. He understood what was happening, or not happening. So, he was knocked for six when his sister finally put it in words.

“Are you gay? Like, I’m sure you are and if you are then that’s OK. I mean, I’m just not sure and my mind is addled.”

“Jesus Christ, where’s all this coming from? I could never figure you out, that’s for sure”, he lied. “Addled is right!”

He was not ready to tell Nora that her mind was not in any way addled. He had always known her to be sharp as a pin, and they knew for sure that one day she would ask. Yet, when the words came out, he went into a tailspin and the conversation he had practiced in his head over and over again just would not come from his lips. “Was it Robert put that into your head? That fella has a mouth on him, and if I were you…”.

“No, John. Robert is Robert. He’s scatty and a bit loose with his tongue, but no. ‘Twas when I met Aunty Rachel last week, she said something.’ Twas a bit strange at the time, I thought.”

“I’m thinking I’d best not know what she’s saying about me”, he said, more to himself really. His eyes looked away and down. He wanted to say “Yes, I am”, or even “Yes, I think I am”, but he was not able. Those words remained locked inside, circling round and round, going nowhere.

“These things are complicated”, he whispered into the phone. “I just couldn’t come out and tell her. We rehearsed it over and over. Be brief. Use short sentences, we said. Tell the truth. Tell our truth. So, I just don’t know what came over me. She’s my twin sister, and I couldn’t tell her. I just threw it back in her face.

“John, listen to me. This is the first time anyone has ever said anything to you about your sexuality. Trust me… if Mary asks you the very same thing tomorrow, you’ll have had this time to help you figure out what you need to say. And what’s more… I bet you understand just as well as I do that people around town and in the office are thinking about whether you’re gay, and they don’t need to ask you, because they’ll just figure it out for themselves.” He hesitated briefly before adding… “It’s easier for you than me.”

“I know. Your’s is a harder one for people to get their head around. But still, when she said it straight out, she might just as well have hit me with a hammer.”

“John, everything will be grand. Mary loves you and she’s on your side”, said the young priest. “I’ll give you a ring tomorrow. In the meantime, go back over in your head about how we practiced, and then just give yourself permission to say your truth. If you say your truth, you won’t go wrong”

One Small Step

It is day one. The journey has begun. I may want to go back, but I am determined to push on despite not knowing what lies ahead.

About ten years ago, shortly before I retired from the day job, I imagined that I would like to write a book. Fast forward (very fast) to July 22nd, 2022, and I am one step nearer to realising my dream. Yes, it is one small step towards having my first book published. It has only taken me ten years, and it has been a very small step, but nonetheless, I am not at standstill m and I am not going backwards.

As yet, I do not know what my book is going to be about. I do not know if it will be fiction or factual. I do not know whether it is going to be for adults or for children. There are lots of unknowns. In fact, it is also unknown whether or not I will finish my book.

I have started, and I am pleased that I have. Over the past ten years, I have written regularly. I’ve had seven or eight different blogs and I’ve jumped over and back between them almost as often as Irish Ferries.

Down through the years, I’ve rolled myself into a tangled ball. I’ve started and stopped as I tried to find my way through some writers’ fog. It is as tricky as the deadly block. Now, I think that I have figured out how I want to write my book. That is not to say that I know what to write, but I am going to crack the nut. Of that I am sure.

I’ve signed the contract with myself. The rewards are mega, and I feel pretty sure that the second book will be easier. I have signed up for some online courses. I signed up two weeks ago. So far, I would class myself as the guy at the back of the class who not so keen to get started, but the great thing is that there is not much likelihood of being booted out.


Have I got your attention? Perhaps one reader or a few? Perhaps a dozen or twenty? I’ll leave it at that for today. You may just be the ONE reader who will want to know more. Rest assured that, alongside writing my book, once I jump a few more hurdles, such as “What will I write about?”, I am going to write about how it is going for me, as I step forward on my journey. The writer writes about writing the elusive book

Help Me

Now comes the “Please-Do-Me-A-Favour” bit. I will be using this journey to write this blog in a way I have not written a blog previously. I am excited and I would love you (one reader or many) to join with me regularly and offer a comment. I’ve got a big file for constructive feedback, a bigger bin for the trolls and I do know the difference. I’ve been followed by robot accounts selling sand to Arabs, and wigs to the hairless. Anyway, as a first step along the way, please consider subscribing to my updates. One reader, or a few; a dozen or perhaps a score?

Perhaps I’ll include sand and Arabs, trolls and Irish Ferries in my book? Jumping hurdles takes on a whole new meaning.

I may want to go back, but I’ll push on despite not knowing what lies ahead.


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Memories of Glencree

Can we tell you your nickname, sir? Will you be cross?
I don’t know until you tell me, says I.
And she hesitated and they all giggled madly.

Here I am at my keyboard. My new website is live and I’m tapping out my first post. In fact, I’ve copied most of it from a post I finished recently over on my Garden Blog, so I’m not really tapping.

Where did this The Three Hairs come from, you ask? In short, a moment of enlightenment brought me back to the year 1982. I sometimes use a small journal app called Prompted Journal. Last week my task was to write about a memory that made me smile. There are millions of memories, and many of them do make me smile. This one rose to the top of the charts, and many smiles were smiled!

Youth hostelling with 6th class in Glencree in early eighties was MAGICAL… they were a great class, bubbly and interesting. One evening , after sausages & beans, one girl was pushed to deliver a message… I could see she was giddy yet nervous…
Can we tell you your nickname, sir? Will you be cross?
I don’t know until you tell me, says I.
And she hesitated and they all giggled madly.
Well… OK. Your nickname is… Baldylocks and the Three Hairs.
And she looked right at me hoping it was OK. Everyone was hushed, and I figured I’d think about it for a few seconds longer than necessary. Poor kids didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Then I just burst out laughing!
Whoever thought up that name should get no homework tonight, I says.
But it’s Saturday, they all sighed.
Those were the days teachers could bring kids away on trips. I know since that appalling things happened to kids, but my memories of Wicklow are amazing.


Baldylocks (aka Páraig)

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