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Skibbereen’s solemn procession gave much comfort to families

November 10th, 2021 5:45 PM

By Jackie Keogh

A section of the large crowd in the Fairfield where the names of those who passed away locally during the pandemic were read aloud. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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A CANDLELIT procession for all those who died during the pandemic will long be remembered as one of Skibbereen’s great occasions.

From the moment people gathered at Skibbereen Heritage Centre – a building that documents the town’s historic loss during the Great Famine – there was a sense that this would be the perfect way to remember the 250 locals who lost their lives over the last 18 months.

With reverence, men and women, young and old, lit the candles supplied by the organisers and moved with a natural and unstudied solemnity through the town’s main streets.

Not even a deluge – an outpouring from the heavens – changed the sincere and solemn attention people gave the task at hand.

From the stage area, in the Fairfield yard, Fr Michael Kelleher and Rev Stephen McCann shared a short reflection.

They literally took it in turns to speak, thereby giving a very real sense that they were speaking as one, speaking for all.

‘The death of a loved one is always difficult,’ they said, ‘but the pandemic has probably made the circumstances of the death as well as the family’s grief particularly challenging.’

They spoke of ‘our shared reality’ and of the guilt, anger, sadness, depression, loneliness, hopelessness, and numbness that is often present after the death of a loved one.

Speaking on behalf of the organisers, Skibbereen Arts Centre, and the 70 singers and musicians – who did a kind of keening by singing out our collective grief – Declan McCarthy said, ‘A wake and paying our respect to the dead is a big part of Irish culture.

‘We have all lost someone,’ he said, ‘we all know someone who has passed away in the last year and a half.’

But the truth of his words only fully hit home when the 250 people who died in the last 18 months were named, and their photographs were shown on screen.

Pat O’Brien, who buried his wife, Mary, on New Year’s Eve, described the vigil as a lovely way to remember her and to share that sense of grief.

‘Since then,’ he said, ‘there are good days and bad days. It’s so final. We were 48 years married. On the other hand, it is a consolation to think that she could do no more. She had an awful lot done and her sufferings were all over.’

Six deaths in the last 18 months have been more than challenging for Sheila Anne O’Leary’s extended family.

‘We have had a fair run of it, but a big part is that we are such a close family. We comforted each other and got on with it.’

She said the vigil was meaningful and that the family were looking forward to seeing the photographs of their lost loved ones on the screen in the Fairfield yard.

Betty Keane said it was a wonderful idea to commemorate people, especially for families who didn’t get a chance to grieve those who have passed away.

‘It’s our tradition to grieve and sympathise with people,’ she said.

Fachtna Hamilton said he came to the vigil to support families who have had tragedies.

‘This is an occasion where we can all come together to support them. It is lovely to see so many here. It is a great occasion for Skibbereen.’

Kathleen Courtney came to remember all those people who have died since the start of the Covid.

‘It’s very necessary,’ she said, ‘especially now that we have a little bit of freedom to come out and commemorate them.’

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