BY NED EGAN
Aye, this was the time of year that Jack Phelan loved. The long early morning walk, down past the rushing roaring Clonassy Waterfall, the mists on the familiar fields, the whirl and dash of fallen leaves, drifting and scudding along on their way to oblivion. The odd startled rabbit, fox, or hare, sure to be about their business at dawn, trying to keep skin and bone together, like all of us.
Jack was a big, raw-boned fellow, not a devotee of the glamour presently attached to most things or beings; just an honest lad doing his best to be a good son for a fine Mammy and Daddy. He succeeded in this mission without effort, and without a speck of false pride. Being a good family man came natural to Jack, God rest him. Around Mullinavat he was well known as a singer, and a fellow who liked a few pints. But whatever spot he was in of an evening, after his hard slog of a labouring day, Jack would –as they say –‘make a bust’ for the grocery shop, and fill a bag with the goods for ‘The Mammy’, who could depend utterly on him. Many’s the time I saw him trudging home through the rain and the snow and the dark, the big canvas bag flung over his broad shoulder, ompletely careless of the elements.
He always reminded me of another great ‘battler’, the Kerryman Tom Crean, the man Ernest Shackleton always took on his flimsy boats in his [vain] attempts to reach the South Pole, a century ago. Crean would keep his oar dipped and ploughing on, in even the most savage of conditions, where one minute in the icy water had you dead as a doornail. And no hope of rescue. I knew the Great Southern Ocean – having fished for sharks – on the edge of it. Would I go where Crean went – even with my Caterpillar D6 Marine Diesel–powered boat? No way. Death lies in every squall down that way. Jack Phelan would have been at his best there, as good as Crean, or any man alive
When he was was stricken by a life- threatening malady, he bore his misfortune better than a King, and up to the day he went to meet his Maker, did all he could to help the people looking after him.
When eventually Jack made his last sad visit to Mullinavat, the crowd to “See him Off” was enormous – the biggest I’ve ever seen in the peaceful place of rest overlooking the village he’d loved so well in life.
I thought I’d write the following poem at the time. His family liked it, and know of this article. To them, it means a good, sound fellow hasn’t been forgotten. You might ask me why I wrote a poem about a humble worker. Far better than to write about some rich numty!
He was a worker, hewed hard timber, carried loads,
His back was bent from dawning light to dark,
He tramped the early bird-song calling roads,
And heard the love-poems of the wakening lark.
When noonday came, he straightened up his frame,
And took the rest that he had earned well,
And offered all he had – his honest name –
When on the wind came God’s sweet Angelus bell.
Aye, Jack was of a rare and fading breed,
Who take bright honour from their labouring day,
No idleness, no taint of tarnished greed,
Can turn these honest fellows from their way.
We miss you Jack, each tale and sturdy song,
(I heard ‘McAlpine’ send you towards the sky}
Now, once again you’re handsome, young, and strong,
No doubt you’re in God’s Tavern, way Up High.
The ‘Fusiliers’ rang out in autumn’s chill,
As Mother Earth took Jack unto her breast,
The throng in silence drifted down the hill,
And left a worker to Eternal Rest.
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.