THERE was a light moment, last week, at the funeral of the late John Griffin. It was when the organist played ‘When Johnny comes marching home again.’
Despite having had a tough start in life at the Baltimore Industrial School, John Griffin knew how to put a smile on the faces of his friends.
Throughout his life he told broad, sweeping stories – all true, about his days in the industrial school; his time as a beggar on the streets, and his time at sea, and in the army; but it was in Skibbereen that he found a place of rest, a home – his home.
John’s friend, Alfie O’Mahony, wrote a book entitled The Way We Were and in it he profiled John Griffin and the fact that he was once ‘given’ to a farmer.
As a young boy, John was quite literally handed over. But one bright summer’s morning he bravely set out for Cork – all the time dreading that his master would swoop on him and haul him back.
Alfie O’Mahony, narrates how John searched for work in the city but could not find it and how he began to beg for the two pence needed to book himself into a hostel.
John had begged on the streets of Cork for a year before leaving for London to seek his fortune, but there too he experienced hard luck until finally managing to find a job as a porter in a gentleman’s club for the rather princely sum of £5 a week.
John, a rather dashing looking man, observed the club’s cultured members and adopted a more sophisticated air.
Once again, John’s life turned on a dime: due to declining membership, the club closed within a year. A former judge proved to be an administering angel: as a parting gift, he gave John £25 and a large parcel of Edwardian clothing.
Another club member wrote a letter on John’s behalf to the captain of the “Queen Mary”. It got him a job.
John later transferred his allegiance to the “Queen Elizabeth” and then decided he’d rather like to work in New Zealand.
Still restless, he returned to join the Irish Army, only to change, once again – this time to the British merchant navy.
All of John’s travels and travails made for interesting stories, but it was in Skibbereen, at his home in Mardyke Court, that he found a place to rest, and on August 28th last at the Fairfield Nursing Home in Drimoleague, John passed away, peacefully.