Thursday 27 October 2016

In the name of fathers both near and on the far shore

Fiona O'Connell

Published 19/06/2016 | 02:30

'They say nothing is wasted. And that life comes full circle'. Stock photo: Getty
'They say nothing is wasted. And that life comes full circle'. Stock photo: Getty

Many moons ago, a short story I wrote called Holy Ghosts was published in the now defunct Sunday Tribune's Hennessy New Irish Writing. A mantra that featured throughout - "in the name of the father" - was the title of a film by Jim Sheridan a few years later.

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They say nothing is wasted. And that life comes full circle. But this Father's Day falls too soon for me to feel happy talking about ghosts. For it is less than a month since my dad passed away.

Regular readers might remember my occasional tales about this man from the backbone of Ireland. One story in particular featured a five pound note that he and his mother lost but then miraculously found on a byroad to Mullingar.

However, it's a piece of fruit and not a fiver that best sums up my father. His habit when he fancied an apple was to first ask if anyone else wanted it. This would go on for some time, as he double and even triple checked. Even after all that, he would only eat half the apple - in case anyone changed their mind.

On that note, he would happily dine on rice and lentils when on retreats. But he relished nothing more than a slab of dead animal on his plate. He would point it out to this 'meat is murder' madam, marvelling" "isn't that fantastic? Would you look at the size of that?"

Maybe he was winding me up, for he was always a joker. Likewise, he would equally terrify and thrill us with supernatural tales from the country. Especially Jack O'Lantern, whose light could lure you ever deeper into the bogs, thinking it belonged to a welcoming home, till you were lost forever.

No doubt such ghost stories thrived in the hell and brimstone atmosphere of 1940s' Catholic Ireland of his childhood. Though my father questioned and ultimately rejected the religion of his birth. Not least for its tradition in those days of reading out contributions at Mass, thus naming and shaming the very poor.

This free-thinking entrepreneur started attending Church of Ireland services, the religion of his best friend. He was also partial to slipping into Quaker meetings, hugely admiring of the lack of pomp and ceremony, and the fact that any member of the congregation could get up to speak if they felt so moved.

He finally committed to the Unitarian Church but also tried to practise Buddhist beliefs such as loving kindness and compassion. He twice stayed in Plum Village, a community established by the Nobel Peace Prize winning monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who was active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Right up to his mid seventies, this man from the Midlands was mixing with monks at retreats in Jampa Ling in Cavan.

Now he has crossed to the far shore. I imagine him there, waving back at me, still smiling. For a father is no ghost, but ever a guiding light.

Sunday Independent

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