Family Life Personal

There is a light that does go out: a farewell to Martin

An elderly man I barely knew died in the wee small hours of this morning. But I lament him, and mark the quenching of another light in the window of a dwindling community.

Martin was 93 and had lived his robust life on a small farm in a rural townland whose name would resonate little beyond its own hinterland.

But it would mean the world to those foddering and foraging on these few square miles of low hills and scraggy enough fields, and it was a world Martin peacefully lived in and, thankfully, peacefully departed those few hours ago.

He had lived his plain enough bachelor farmer’s life in Trieneragh, Duagh, Co Kerry, having long ago thwarted the one serious opportunity to leave that came his way.

And was never heard to regret his indecision.

Sunday dinner in his nephew’s adjacent family house was as close to a break as Martin would get from his year-round farming endeavours.

And that same nephew, Brendan, and his wife and three sons, and Martin’s widowed sister-in-law Hilda — Brendan’s mum — who brought him his dinner every day, also formed a vital social grounding and conduit.

Not that Martin would not have considered Trieneragh and his low-lying acres to be in any way exotic.

Like many farmers, Martin was not one to gild his utterances, especially with people he barely know, but I remember one time asking him about his farm, and him peering out over it from under his trademark tweed flat cap before wryly noting: “’Tis easy wet it.”

There was a twinkle in an eye well used to subtly weighing up people, and I was struck by the beautiful economy and poetic wisdom of his pithy observation.

Martin was no Patrick Kavanagh or Seamus Heaney, great men to set an earthy vignette to word music, but he knew his nature, his farm, and his people.

The same nephew Brendan is married to one of my sisters-in-law.

So I would know Martin to say hello to, and had maybe four decent conversations with him in the 20 years I knew him.

One I particularly enjoyed was when we found ourselves talking about radio reporter Paddy O’Gorman, best known for his street vox pops in Dublin city’s less salubrious quarters.

RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster, repeats the day’s radio shows during the night, and Martin, who as well as reading the local Kerryman newspaper from front page to back, was interested in the bigger world too, and it transpired, was an unlikely fan of O’Gorman’s.

He was fascinated by O’Gorman’s interviews with and reports on “the tough crowd above in Dublin” as Martin described them.

Like I say, I did not know Martin well but what strikes me now is what his passing represents.

I remember in my arrogant youth thinking how boring small town people must be, especially the ones who never left the place where they were born.

Now, of course, I know that some people who have travelled the world have learned little, while others who never lived a mile beyond a cowpat from where they came into the world can see, as William Blake put it, “a world in a grain of sand,/And heaven in a wild flower”.

I think it’s something to do with being able to truly live in the moment, aware of one’s surroundings and appreciating them, indeed feeling connected to place in a visceral way. As rooted there as any tree or shrub.

Connected in a way that one takes in season, sound and sight so that they never cease to fascinate and reveal.

Not that these people would stop to think of it all like that.

I read a marvellous piece by writer Michael Harding in the Irish Times a while back called “The lights go out on another solitary country life”.

It’s so worth reading in full but I when I think of Martin now, and what his passing means not just to his family, but to the community he lived on the outskirts of but was a part of, I think of the neighbouring bachelor farmer whose passing Harding’s piece was lamenting:

“A quiet man who never married but was good to the mother and was cherished by nephews and nieces and lived in a cosy house in the quiet hills above Lough Allen,”

I thought “pure Martin” as Harding noted how “Like many rural men, he wasn’t given to overexcitement. He’d raise one finger from the steering wheel to salute me. If I whispered my enthusiasm for the good weather as we passed, he might agree, but he would cautiously add: “Will it last?”

And then this killer observation: “When a farmer dies in the countryside there is a strange emptiness in the fields. They grow ragged with rushes, and without paint, the galvanised sheds turn to rust, although nothing rusted on my neighbour’s land”.

Harding and his neighbour rarely spoke but the writer felt he knew him, and his activities formed such a part of his daily life:

“The summer sky is full of sound, from the exquisitely booming bittern to the call of the curlew, but there was no sound as delicious as my neighbour’s tractor in a field of grass as he sat steering and twisting his head to watch the rake toss the mown grass into perfect lines behind him, and later the thump of hay bales being piled into the red galvanised shed”.

And now this man was gone, leaving behind his lovingly tended acres and taking with him a lifetime’s gathered knowledge of soil, lore, and peculiarities of weather.

This quiet man “who walked deeply on the earth and loved its colours” was no more and Harding signed off on his exquisite piece with these words:

“The house where there was always a light in the window at Christmas will be dark this year. Those who live in the hills above Lough Allen have lost another solitary man. But all across the west of Ireland it is the same – one by one, the lights go out”.

Rest in Peace, Martin.

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55 comments on “There is a light that does go out: a farewell to Martin

  1. Touching words. There are often characters that we know very little, but when they pass you do miss them. We have those in our small town. People that have lived their whole lives confined here as if it’s almost like Brigadoon!
    #MixItUp (technically I ready this from being subscribed to your blog, but as I then was alerted to MixItUp and yours was the post before mine I thought I’d best add the hashtag!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you popped in, from wherever! Yeh, everywhere has a Martin or two! Unheralded but part of the very fabric of a place. Thanks for commenting David

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    • And now coming via #TriumphantTales as you slipped in just before my post!

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  2. A worthy tribute in a thought provoking piece

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A lovely tribute, Enda. I grew up in a village surrounded by farmland, and we had a near equivalent of Martin. It’s sad that many often don’t realise the true worth of the likes of Martin until they’re no longer with us, but you’ve done him proud.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, thank you Clive … good to see you busy online recently! Some great music .. amazing to see Vega, Thompson, and Wainwright on stage together!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Two posts on successive days, I’m quite worn out! There was music, but I don’t think it included any of them, or have I forgotten something? Advancing age and all that….

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  4. What a lovely tribute to Martin. I have much understanding of those that never leave their roots as I’m one myself. I guess I’ve never moved a mile beyond the cowpat despite living in a big city. Roots are roots though wherever they are grown. I’ve a way to go to 93 years though, so who knows, I may even move somewhere rural one day, I’ve always fancied living near the sea.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tracey Abrahams

    I think the older generations who stay rooted to the villages they grew up in offer something invaluable to the community. They are the living history and memory of the place.

    Back in April this year I started helping out a lady in our village. Partly as help to get her ready for bed in the evenings and partly as company. Alice is the grand old age of 101 and I love sitting with her and hearing her tales of how our little village and the wider area have changed over her lifetime. She is at the moment in hospital and it saddens me no end that if she passes all that local history which is not the thing people record in books will be lost forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Tracey, it really is amazing to think of the magnitude of what people like the woman you describe leave behind them when they go. I had an aunt who died last year and she had lived to be 104 and saw both momentous world events and huge shifts in Irish social and cultural history. So much lost when people like that go, real, lived experience that cannot be replicated or replaced

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  6. What a touching and beautiful tribute to your beloved friend. Martin, you are loved and remembered.

    #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for your lovely comment

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  8. Martin reminds me of a neighbor we had when I lived at my parents’ house before I was married – Mrs. Brooks. Mrs. Brooks was widowed shortly after she was married. She lived on her farm all of her life, never learned to drive and never remarried. She depended on my parents to take her where she wanted to go. My mom (and later I) did her grocery shopping. Her little farm was beautiful – no weeds, straight rows, bountiful harvest. She loved her land with a passion, as I imagine Martin did, too. They do leave a hole when they leave, don’t they?

    Liked by 1 person

    • They sure do Laurie. It’s like they are such a part of the place that we take them for granted when they are alive but when they go we realise the value of what they have lived and taken with them.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful Enda, what a beautiful, poetic, and dignified farewell to your neighbour, kudos!

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  10. Brendan

    Well done Enda. You manage to capture a lot of him and his disappearing equals. The highest praise I can give you is that he would have hated it!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is so tender, thought provoking and touching. I feel as if there are characters that represent another era and with each of their passing that era is fading. Thankfully there are people like yourself who have taken the time to consider him and so his ways live on a little longer xx Maria

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A touching tribute to Martin.
    I always wonder if people know how loved they are. When 9 attend funerals Nd see the poeopl coming to pay respects I always ask if they knew they meant so much to this many people.
    R.I.P Martin

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sometimes they find out too late, but I know Martin’s tribe loved him … even if they’d be the last people to use those words! Actions first …

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  14. what a lovely tribute to a lovely man #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Spectrum Mum

    Beautifully and thoughtfully written as always. The world needs people like Martin. #BloggerclubUK

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  16. Beautiful writing as ever. It made me think how if I had not been adopted I would have lived in such a place and known farming well. It also made me think how we all bang on about the need for mindfulness and counting our blessings when people like your man knew it instinctively all along. How we complicate things and to our personal cost I think. Thanks for sharing your reflections and also signposting to other things that I will follow up on #BloggerClubUK

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  17. This is lovely, Martin sounds like a great man. Reminds me of some of the older chaps that come to my shop, one is a farmer that supplies eggs to lots of local businesses and although gruff he has a sparkle in his eye His wife once told me he had managed to burn his kitchen down and had to be rescued by the fire brigade wearing nothing but a tshirt. Poor guy! #blogcrush

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  18. What a lovely tribute, Enda! He sounds like many old farmers that live round my way. Lift their cap, round their cows, brush their hair to go to church. Such characters and worth remembering. Lovely read. #thesatsesh

    Liked by 1 person

  19. What a lovely goodbye to your neighbor. You’ve managed to make me feel as if I knew him to – and I feel his loss. Rest in peace, Martin. Beautiful, Enda. #globalblogging xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah thanks Lisa. A great life, but also great tribute due to his nephew and family who made sure he had a great quality of life right to the end. But he made it easier for them by being such a decent and lovable man.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Small towns seem to make you realize how fragile life is, much more so than a big city. You notice people more often, and get a better sense of who they are – even if you only briefly speak with them in passing. RIP Martin. And thank you for making me cry Enda, I was overdue for an emotion that wasn’t over-exaggerated rage. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is the other side of small town life … every one can be important in a small town, part of the fabric of a place, in a way they might not be in a bigger place. Thanks Heather

      Liked by 1 person

  21. What an absolutely beautiful tribute. I come from a family of farmers (some are surprised, I’m not your typical farmer’s daughter!) and this touched me in a way I wasn’t expecting. Thanks so much or sharing with #TriumphantTales, do come back next week.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thanks Jaki. I appreciate that

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  23. A beautifully poignant and thought provoking piece. May Martin rest in peace and all those like him living in a quiet way be remembered by someone. Thanks for being on the #DreamTeam

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Lovely deication to Martin and agree with the statement about you can travel a lot and learna little and vicer versa, very true indeed X #thesatsesh

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Back with another nod to Martin, ❤ #itsok

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Musings of a tired mummy...zzz...

    People can have such an impact and never know it. We should show our appreciation before it is too late. RIP Martin #dreamteam

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  27. Thanks for linking up to the #itsok parenting bloggers linky.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Such a lovely post, I grew up in a small village in Devon which had many men and women just like Martin. Sometimes they hadn’t left the village, or even the house they were born in, others had done extraordinary things and then come back home and settled straight back into farming and country life, but they all held so much wisdom – something I didn’t realise as a teenager, but now, like you, I am very aware of. Thanks for sharing xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Daydreamer mum

    Gorgeous writing!! There must be some real comfort in putting down roots and then staying there. Not feeling the need to look further and do better constantly!! #triumphanttales

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed … but sometimes it’s hard to keep a person.down on the farm when theyve seen Par-ee! Takes all sorts. Thanks Kelly

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  30. Enda I found this profoundly moving. My mother’s family are farming people from Kerry so there was much I recognised here. Thank you for this compassionate tribute. May he rest in peace.

    Regards Thom.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. A beautifully written piece lamenting the passing of a special kind of fellow. A lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing. #thesatsesh xx

    Liked by 1 person

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