It is with the deepest sorrow that we record the passing of Mary Burke (nee Williams), Byrneville and formerly Fitzgerald Terrace, Dungarvan, County Waterford.
Mary passed away peacefully on the 30th of January and is predeceased by her husband Michael, son Gary, parents Timothy and Ellen, brother Tom and sister Margaret O’Mahony. Mary is deeply mourned and sadly missed by her loving family Pat, Ber, Ray, Elaine, Michele, Máire and Micheál, daughters-in-law Marion, Paula, Celia, Ann and Dawn, son-in-law Brendan, sister Breeda Crotty (Birmingham), sister-in-law Joan (Ballyporeen), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nephews, nieces, relatives and friends.
Mary was born in Kilcaroon, County Tipperary, and moved to Dungarvan after her leaving certificate to work in Waterford County Council. Being a daily massgoer, she met her husband-to-be Michael on the way to mass each morning and they married in 1957. They were blessed with eight children.
Being a woman of deep faith, she studied scripture and the reforms of Vatican II. She was a member of the local prayer group, a founding member of GROW Mental Health Group Dungarvan and co-facilitated Síol Retreats.
Mary had a 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. Later, she caught TB 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 the family would have a meat-free day and the savings were put in a jar to be given to charity. She also worked as a volunteer with MABS in a very discreet and respectful way.
To Mary, the pen was always mightier than the sword. She had no fear of writing letters challenging injustices or inequalities she saw around her. She had a deep love of reading, learning and education. Even in her 70’s she would do an Adult Education night course every autumn, for example French, archaeology, journalism etc. Mary’s hobbies included reading, current affairs, gardening, and hill walking with the Dungarvan Group. She was happiest with family around her, and “Thursday Burkes” cup of tea and a chat became a weekly feature in Fitzgerald Terrace
Life was not without its trials as Mary’s son Gary died suddenly in 1993 and her husband Michael in 1996. Due to failing health Mary resided at her daughter Michele’s house from 2014 onwards. For several years, she continued with her love of reading and, in particular some gardening. Her memory declined slowly over time, but her personality remained the same, and if anything, she got wittier.
In December 2021, her mobility went. Fortunately, Mary’s large family were able to tend to her needs and in January 2023, God called Mary. She passed away peacefully and pain-free.
The Burke family would like to thank all those who called, sent messages, attended the funeral, and offered words of comfort and support. A full acknowledgement will follow at a later date.
Below is the funeral eulogy for Mary, delivered by her son Pat:
Rev Father, ladies and gentlemen…
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, although 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 and they have had an incredible devotion to mam and an attention to all the details of mam’s needs. We 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, you would say.
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. Council officials, newspapers, health service, RTÉ and so on. On the strength of one such letter, you secured the first bus shelter in Dungarvan. 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.
Month’s Mind Mass for Mary will be offered at 12 noon on Sunday, 5th March in St. Mary’s Church, Dungarvan.
(Funeral arrangements by James Kiely & Sons, Funeral Directors, Dungarvan)