Journey to a Funeral
We walked quickly winding our way through the alleys avoiding the sea-front which was being lashed by a gale. A knock at a downstairs window to be joined by a companion.
We continued down Lower Salthill, through Nile Lodge and along Newcastle Road all the time shielding our faces from the wind-driven rain. Past the hospital corner to where the transport waited at the college gate. This was spring morning- February but three days old- but spring had been denied.
The dark hulk of the bus blended with the dawn blackness. We waited at the bus door waiting to be inside.
“We move at seven”, said the organiser. “If there is room you can come”.
We were not really supposed to be there. We waited anxiously, nervously hoping. A trickle of people filled the few vacant seats that remained, the trickle of people against the trickle of time. Time won.
The bus moved off like a ship away from a quay. We relaxed a little. Rumour spread of floods and storms and impassable roads. The bus trundled on uncertainly as if echoing our own uncertainty. I felt uneasy, maybe I shouldn’t be going. Maybe I should not have given in to that abstract impulsive.
The dawn light had wrestled with the elements but now gave up its forlorn battle with wind, rain and cloud. The elements had won and a dark sullen sky overshadowed all.
We wound our way through counties Galway, Mayo and Sligo. The country did not look alive this morning. The end of the world, for some. In Donegal we stopped as a funeral passed. It was not the first funeral we had met on the way. There were many funerals throughout the country on that day. But then there are funerals all over the country every day but not as many as today. Today was different.
We wound our way now very slowly as if nervous of reaching our destination. We cut across through the Gap of Donegal. Not a sign of life. More dark houses but yet no sign of life. Soon there is a whisper, the border! Confusion, which way? As if wishing to turn away. We pass a burnt-out customs post. The driver has been urged to bring us into the city over three miles away. We might be late. He reluctantly agrees. We come to a signpost for Letterkenny but turn in another direction.
Through the mist we see something up ahead. Coming closer we see the green hulk of a half- track stretched across the road. The soldiers wave us down with their rifles. A soldier steps up into our bus. A hush. He is unarmed. Outside his crew watch. A few drink from enamel mugs. They shift about restlessly. They are cold probably. We freeze inside as the guns eye us arrogantly. The lone soldier walks through the bus. He scans each anxious face. No other sound. He gives a cursory inspection, finds nothing. Relief. The bus creeps through the narrow path left by the driver of the army vehicle. We have difficulty. Not an inch. The bus loses patience and lurches into a hollow and out again. The driver regretting his decision.
I look back. A soldier makes a sign of the cross, in mockery. Yet we are through and soon the cars line up in front of us. We stop and leave the bus which immediately begins to turn and retreat. It will wait for us over the border that evening. We will have to make our own way back to the meeting point. Confusion again, which way now? A suggestion ‘Up the hill’. A suggestion becomes a fact. We try to hurry. We may not be in time. The rain lashes the hill. A big bleak hill dotted with equally bleak housing estates against a murderous and revengeful sky. The rain water rushes down the sloped roadway, it too in a hurry to hide. We scramble on through torn up pavements and burned-out barricades. We move through an estate following the former trickle which is now a crowd. We reach the gates and push through into the graveyard of the adjoining church. We follow the well-ordered plots. From the headstones it can be seen that it is not an old graveyard. Very young as headstone inscriptions relay ’68. ’69, ’71, ’71, ’72 tell that.
We move on slowly now. There are a number of open graves ready, one here, a couple more over there. A number of others speckle the green hill with the brown-black earth. One area catches our attention. We walk towards it and stand and look into the group of open graves as they lie side-by-side. Twelve graves in all here today and another in Donegal.
The coffins of the dead are borne out along the pathway. We line the route. The rain still unrelenting on the Regan. The hearts of many are cold. The apparently endless cortege passes through the ranks of the shocked and silent witnesses. The coffins are laid into the earth. Five in one neat row. The ceremonies are performed and slowly we retreat. The reporters and photographers record. The curious still try to absorb it all. Parse might have said, ‘a great offering, a great sacrifice, a foul deed’. It was not meant to be so. The aggrieved too are silent, trying to comprehend the nightmare of their loss without understanding how or why?
Ten years later, today Wednesday, I remember another quotation “Where does remembrance weep when we forget”,