You get your chance to try in the twinkling of an eye . . .
The opening lines of an old rock song were dancing around in my head last week. They weren't entirely appropriate, but they stayed with me nonetheless:
The memories of a man in his old age
Are the deeds of a man in his prime
You shuffle in the gloom of the sickroom
And talk to yourself as you die
Life is a short, warm moment
And death is a long, cold rest
You get your chance to try in the twinkling of an eye
Eighty years, with luck, or even less
Early last Sunday morning Eamon Glennon died in his home on the outskirts of Longford town, surrounded by his family. He had been ill for some time, and sadly robbed of the memories of the man he was in his prime.
But the town in which he lived most of his 75 years did not forget the deeds of the man. It is difficult to adequately describe just how many lives he touched, and in how many different ways. He was a GAA man, a fisherman, a businessman, a community man, a family man, a gentleman. Eamon was also my uncle, a man I have looked up to for as long as I can remember.
For five hours last Monday, people filed past his coffin and shook hands with his wife Breda, daughter Helen, sons Martin, Niall and David, brothers Denis and James, and sisters Anne and Mary. They offered sympathy to each in turn, a few words, or a nod of the head. Some were stuck for something to say that would convey their sense of loss, others were too emotional to speak. They came in their thousands to say goodbye, and to show their deep, genuine sadness at his passing. To be there, and to see such an outpouring of grief and respect in a small county, was humbling. It was a reminder of why our traditions at these times are something to cherish, not something to be ashamed of or to sneer at.
Funerals are a way of life in this country. In an age when we are surrounded by so much false sincerity, an Irish funeral stands as a reminder that there remains a core decency in rural Ireland despite the cynicism which abounds. More than once I heard it said last week that nobody does death quite like we do. For a country with so many shortcomings, the way we can rally around a family in mourning is truly remarkable. A life well lived is never forgotten. Or trivialised.
As Eamon was carried into Ballymacormack Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon, there was a guard of honour by members of Longford Slashers. There were men he had played with in the 1950s and '60s, and there were players from the current generation too. The coffin was draped with the club's pale blue and white colours as a reminder of the importance of the GAA to him and the Glennon family.
Eamon is remembered as a fearless goalkeeper in his day, for club and county, and his exploits with both were recalled many times last week. He played in an era when standing in goal was no place for the faint-hearted, and I have laughed many times over the years at some of the stories about the life of a goalkeeper in those days. We laughed again last week. As is typical of these occasions, people just walked up to various family members and launched into their favourite football or fishing story about Eamon. Everybody had their own precious memory.
His sporting connections ran deep and I often think it is at times like this that the true strength of the GAA is evident. In a normal week, the GPA's proposals for restructuring the football championship would have been front and centre in my thoughts, but it was not a normal week. There is a tendency to forget what the GAA really means to so many people - it is a part of their everyday life, and while the championship comes and goes, most are preoccupied with more meaningful matters, generally relating to their club and its wellbeing, and, more importantly, the wellbeing of its members. A man who played with Eamon said to me after the funeral: "I wish they'd leave things alone. I love the GAA, and I love it the way it is. I will never forget 1966, or 1968, and if it doesn't happen again in my lifetime that's fine, I will take that with me."
This is as much a part of the GAA as what happens on the pitch. I think Eamon understood this intimately. And I think he felt, like so many do, that it was part of how he identified with who he was and where he was from.
He had a rare gift for helping people - always quietly, always without fuss. He also had a rare gift for living and loving life, and people. That's what I will remember.
You get your chance to try in the twinkling of an eye, and Eamon took his chance with both hands. We all miss him.
Don't fear, don't fear, I said to my soul
The Bedlam of Time is an empty bucket rattled
'Tis you who will say in the end who best battled
Only they who fly home to God have flown at all
Sunday Indo Sport