Eulogy – Dr Anne Boyle

February 7th, 2019 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

We had the memorial service for my mother today – she died Monday, and the Irish tradition is to have a short few days of funereal rituals prior to the burial. In Mom’s case – always the non-conformist – she asked for a non-religious service and a cremation, so the last few days have been about moulding old rituals into new forms.

Much of the service was structured around eulogies from her three children, followed by reflections from those present. I think she would have liked the notion that there was no single authoritative pronouncement on her life, but multiple overlapping glimpses.

Here are the lines I delivered:

Holding court in the kitchen, sitting by the stove, or bustling about from oven to table, while children and grandchildren ate fresh-made scones with ham and cheese, or slices of batch loaf spread thick with Nutella.

Making friends out of seemingly random strangers in cafes in New Orleans, in queues in museums and restaurants, while waiting on the bench that is Eason’s windowsill.

Returning from an evening’s canvass, with tales of the voters she had connected with, listened to, and learnt from.

Mom enjoyed meeting people, engaging with them, getting them to open up about their lives, their passions, their challenges. And then she would share those stories, bringing to life the dreams and struggles of people who became part of this living tapestry – a waitress in her favourite coffee shop, who she had gotten to know in the days and months she spent drafting dissertation chapters; the families of her pupils at Hillside Park; her extended family – siblings, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

The power of stories, of narrative, had been the tool she used to ground her PhD project, to understand and communicate the role of education in the lives of members of the Travelling community. It had been the means by which she had connected intuitively with the work of theorists like Michel Foucault, fascinated by his tales of punishment, control, and institutional power. And every day, it was her skills as a listener and a storyteller that she used to bind her family together, listening to the quotidian details of our lives, and retelling them so skillfully that I had, at times, to remind myself that her version of a minor drama was second or third hand, rather than something she had witnessed herself.

Family was at the centre of her life. As she had, so many times before, in her closing days she echoed the words of her own mother, in urging us (her children) to avoid fighting with each other, and to provide support for each other, and for Dad.

She did so much for us, sacrificed so much. Maybe it was because I was such an overwhelmingly charming baby, but she decided not to return to her work in the tax office after my birth, despite being one of the first able to avail of maternity leave after the lifting of the marriage bar.

So much of our parents’ time, money, and energy, was invested in us, focused on us. Holidays spent packed together in a car, as we travelled. Travel, exposure to other cultures, and experiencing the artifacts of culture and history so immediately, was a very conscious gift, from Roman Baths and Wookie Hole in England in 1980, to exploring the Brothers Grimm during a memorable visit to Austria, the Carnac menhirs in Brittany, the Lascaux Cave paintings, Niagara Falls, the historic sites of New England when Dad was based there for work, from the witch trials of Salem to the Plymouth settlement.

It wasn’t all serious. There was the sugary indulgence of Disney World. Relaxing into the surf near Bordeaux.

While she treasured her home life, Mom was fascinated by what lay just out of sight. Some of the earliest memories she shared were of sitting with her father, as he explored a world atlas with her. As with so much else, I think her fascination with knowledge, her love of learning can be traced back to those formative moments.

She was proud of where she came from, of who she was. In the sitting-room hangs a photograph of her grand-uncle, lost at Gallipoli before she was born. Remembered still by her, by us.

She was a McCarthy. She loved West Cork, its beauty and its sense of home. She loved her parents, and was proud of the example they had provided, of generosity, of standing up for what was right.

And she had stories, always stories. Of how they were unafraid to stand up against the symbols of Official Ireland – the bullying school mistress; the priest who sought to exclude and shame others.

She brought their fearlessness with her to Galway, speaking up against the anti-Traveller barricades she passed, walking into town as a young mother, later joining the Galway Traveller Support Group, and dedicating her working life – and so much more – to the Traveller pre-school system, striving for an education system that offered inclusion and opportunity, while valuing diversity.

She was fearless and unstinting as a mother too. When I, at seven, wondered why our teacher had told us the boys in my class would do ‘crafts’, while the girls learnt to knit, she ensured I had the chance to be perhaps the first boy in Renmore Primary to learn knitting. Which is why I have in a short 36 years, already completed 30 rows of plain.

She got up early to drive us to rowing practice. She was on first name terms with IRTC staff as we sought the Flirt FM licence, with our home phone the main point of contact for our not-yet-a-station. And when we decided to follow the roads less travelled – to take a year out to work in student radio; to leave a job with a bank in favour of an Olympic dream; to move to Cambridge; to leave a job in telecoms to become a graduate student in the humanities – every time, she provided all the support we might need, and more.

She was my Mom; she was our Mom. And our Grandma; our Grandmama. Sister; aunt; life-partner. Though I think she would be taken-aback by the description, she was, as so many have reminded us this week, a lady. A fierce, funny, strong, thoughtful, loving, unconventional lady. And we’ll miss her.

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