Paddy with Hillary and Bill Clinton
For the last two weeks in August Paddy McGeady and I spent a few minutes together every night. We stood at his back door listening to the birdsong, discussing the weather and celebrating the day. Paddy was a happy man. A bachelor, Gaeilgeoir, a quiet republican and a good neighbour. He was a gentleman, a scholar and a fine judge of Irish whiskey.
He took sick in September, was rushed to hospital, operated on and was very seriously ill. When I visited him, Paddy was in Intensive Care and on a Life Support Unit. But he started slowly to improve. I took succour from this. Father Reid had been in the same position but he recovered to the point that he was able get on with his life. Not as independently as before but alive all the same. For a few more years.
It looked like Paddy was on the same pathway. Then wham!
He suddenly got worse. I was on the way out of the Dáil when Eamonn phoned me with the bad news. Hours later he phoned again. Paddy was gone. Ar slí an fhirinne. Eamonn was with him when he died. That was not surprising. Eamonn and Eilis had visited him every day in Letterkenny hospital. They and their six children saw Paddy nearly every day for years and years. Their home is at the bottom of Paddy's lane. On his daily walk to the village Paddy would exchange greetings with them. The same with Margaret further down the road. Or her brother Paddy and Seamus.
Since he retired Paddy's routine was as regular as clockwork. A day for the shop. A day for the post office. A yarn with Tom. A few hours in the hotel for a deoch and a read at the newspaper. Then the walk home. For years he used to go on my bike. He was in his seventies before he gave up the cycling.
He kept his little home spick and span. He was a planter of trees. Mostly conifers. Unfortunately. And once he planted bamboo. It went on to almost devour one side of his property. But he was very fussy about a wee hedge which he cultivated along the side of the gable. It was as straight as a die.
And he was a bit of an artist. The little wall which flanked his lane way was decorated with little faces which Paddy shaped with great skill years and years ago. All the little people in my life love Paddy's wee faces. The gable of the stone shed facing his back door is dominated by a huge bear. He got a slab of slate from me and erected it like a standing stone after cutting designs in it based on a photo of a stone carving in Borneo.
There is something pagan about it all. The bear. The faces. The standing stone.
But Paddy was a quiet unassuming Catholic. He lifted the collection in the chapel a few times a year when it was his turn to do so. He was very shy and never looked forward to that.
He was also independently minded. He had a flag pole in his front garden. He would fly the tri colour there on special occasions. He had a thoughtful world view. A few years ago at the height of the Israeli assault on Gaza Paddy got a large piece of canvass and painted his own Palestinian flag on it. Hardly anyone knew but that wasn't the point. He flew his homemade Palestinian flag on his flag pole in the highlands of west Donegal in solidarity with the people of Palestine. He was equally against the war in Iraq.
Paddy and I travelled to meet Bill and Hillary Clinton one day in Belfast. Paddy thanked them for their work on the Irish peace process. He quietly asked them to do the same thing in the Middle East. He was extremely courteous. That never left him.
When a young man Paddy left Donegal and travelled to Glasgow and then to Luton where he worked in the Vauxhall plant. He spent a wee while in Germany also, camping and motor cycling. Then he came back home again. He kept himself busy doing odd jobs and working with his father on the farm before getting a job in McFadden’s Hotel. He also got involved with a local dramatic society. His Irish was beautiful. So was his handwriting. He used old Irish script and grammar.
One time he and I were talking about films.
"I would love to see Treasure Island again" he told me.
"When I was a wee lad they used to show a film every month or so down in the Parochial Hall. All of us really loved Treasure Island. But it was in English so nobody could follow the dialogue. I always meant to watch it again.'
But he never did.
He was a simple man. And cheerful. His life was uncomplicated. But he was well read and knowledgeable too. There are men and women like Paddy all around Ireland. In little homes at the top of long lanes. Living their lives in relative serenity. Doing harm to no one and enriching the lives of those they meet along the way. For years he minded his mother. He told me he rarely used the front door once her coffin exited that way some years ago.
I will miss Paddy. So will Colette. So will his sister Máire. Our solidarity to her and to the wider McGeady clann and his neighbours and friends. An tAthair Gallagher spoke very well at Paddy's funeral Mass. Then we all walked up the steep path to the sloping graveyard on the hill above Gorta A Choirche. We buried Paddy in the clean dry soil there.
He would have been pleased at the number of people who turned up and at the nice things that were said at his funeral. He would have been embarrassed at the tears we shed.
When it was all over I returned alone to the house. As I passed her home Mairéad who knows Paddy from childhood came out into her street to talk to me and to commiserate with me about Paddy's demise, in her lovely singsong Irish. Then I walked on slowly up the lane past the little faces and turned the gable corner along his neat little hedge. I was caught by surprise by the sight of the tri colour flying at half mast from Paddy's flag post. Eamonn must have hoisted it. Quite rightly.
I sat on the window sill. Bloody Foreland used to be visible from here before the conifers got too tall. Paddy could tell how long it would take the rain to travel from there to Cashel. He was seldom wrong.
I sat there in the bright Autumnal sunshine on my own and thought of all the craic and comhra and companionship Paddy and I enjoyed le cheile. Then the breeze sighed gently and the flag fluttered and my heart loosened again.
That’s when I cried a little for the passing of this good and gentle man. Sitting on my own on his window sill looking out towards Bloody Foreland.