Eulogy for my father

My dad died on 12th February 2023. He now follows my mother who died on 15th September 1995 and my younger brother Finbar, who died on 6th February 2018.

Good morning everyone, and thank you for being able to make it today to help us mark dad’s life, and pray for him as we bring him to his final resting place. 

A number of people were unable to make it yesterday or today and have separately sent their condolences.  On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank them for their kind messages.

A number of our cousins also couldn’t make it today.  I’d ask you to also keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

I’d like to start by thanking a number of people:

Thanks to Marie Walsh & those at DISC hire for the lights we used yesterday for the parking at the house for everyone coming in.

I won’t chance names here, but thank you to all of those who came together last night for catering and setting up the house. You helped create an atmosphere that dad would have been proud of.  It gave a real sense of a community coming together to help out.

The staff in Egan’s funeral home have been an incredible support for us.  They have guided, advised, and tolerated changes with no fuss.  Billy, Andy, thank you.

I’d like to thank those working at the County Council yard in Killeagh – at very little notice they came up and patched up the road.  It helped those who had travelled to offer their support.

Dad was proud to be a member of the Inch Point to Points, and it was great that they were able to help out with traffic and directions yesterday.

I’d like to thank Rita Scannell and Anne Keniry for looking after the flowers.

I’d also like to thank Rita for recording this so that friends and family can join us online.

For the choir, all of those who sang, and also for John Casey, Catherine Keniry and Mary Daly for helping to organise and bring it all together.

I’d like to thank the staff of Glendonagh who have been very good to us and for looking after dad over the past year.

I’d like to thank Fr. Frank O’Neill who came up to Glendonagh on Sunday to say prayers with us and bless dad.

Fr. Eamonn Barry has been a good friend to our family for a number of years.  He was very good to dad in the years after mam died.

I’d like to thank Fr. Tim for being there for us on so many occasions over the past number of years.  He has been a great support, and continues to be so.

Thank you to all of those who visited dad over the past few years. He really enjoyed and appreciated those visits.

They say it takes a community to raise a child.  Well over the past few days we have seen a community come together to help say farewell to one of its own.

How do you sum up a life that has spanned 92 years? I could try for a load of anecdotes about the things he said and did, but would need the bones of 92 years to get through it all.  He lived such a full life.

To try to go over dad’s life is like taking a peek at just how much this country has changed in this lifetime.

Dad was born in 1930, into a small household with a small farm just up the road from here in Ballykilty.  He sometimes talked about going to Youghal with his mother on the horse and cart, and how she would check her purse every so often to make sure she hadn’t lost her money.  Things were tight.

He sometimes talked about seeing World War II barrage balloons out at sea protecting the convoys on their way to England.

He was 14 when the war ended, and only a short time later he moved to England to make a living.  He spent his time on building sites over there, coming home with a feast of stories, and the start of a plan to buy his own farm.

For years dad worked as a labourer for others, building up his reputation and his finances until he was able to eventually move on to buy the home farm in Ballinalough.  And it was there that he built the rest of his life.

Dad was a man who was willing to take chances, to work incredibly hard, and he was willing to glimpse a future and try new things.

At our brother Finbar’s funeral 5 years ago I was told how dad was one of the first people in County Cork to build slatted units for cattle.  He had the ability to think outside of what was normally done, and to go for a big plan.

Dad was gifted. He knew machines, and he knew how to build and how to fix them.
Once, we were cutting silage and something got caught in the blades of the mower, causing the gears in the tractor to get damaged.
Dad, along with our cousin Matthew, took the rear of the tractor apart, found the damaged gears, replaced them, and rebuilt the tractor. 
35 years later and I’d still be trying to fix that particular jigsaw.

There was another time when the one ton bags of fertiliser were coming onto the market.  Dad went to Atkins in Midleton, I think it was, and had a long, slow, really good look at the mechanism for loading those bags into a fertiliser spreader.

And then he went off, bought the pieces, and made one for himself. I don’t think he ever heard of Patent Laws.

He was able to do so much, and was always willing to learn more, to try out more.

He loved farming so much.  He just loved animals. He just wasn’t so good at remembering their names.  Every dog we had as a family ended up being called ‘shep’, no matter what name the rest of us had given that dog. 

Even though he officially retired at the age of 65, nothing of that sort actually happened.  He was always checking in with Mark and Finbar on how they were doing. Walking the fields, checking mart prices, watching the farming programmes.  Believe it or not, he still helped Mark draw silage at the age of 89.  Think.  89 years old and still able to get into a tractor and draw a few loads of silage.

Dad loved sport.  He was a proud member of the Inch point-to-points, and loved going up to the track to help out and to watch the races.

For years, decades, dad followed the point-to-points every winter.  He only finally stopped when he physically found it too hard to be on the course in winter. But he never lost the love of horse racing.  He’d constantly follow racing on the TV, and knew so much about trainers, breeders and jockeys. 

He loved following those he knew, such as Richard Rohan. Any time Richie was racing dad would know, and be looking for that race on TV.  Even better if the race was close to home and he could get someone to give him a lift.

He loved following how Seamus Rohan was doing with any horse he had.  Seamus has a horse racing today, and no doubt, hopes that dad can put in a good word.  To be fair, though, based on his track record, Seamus and the horse may need full on Divine Intervention rather than just a good word from dad.

Because of his love of horses, dad particularly enjoyed visiting Seamus, or as Thomas calls him, “The son that dad never had”

Dad regularly followed soccer, GAA and Rugby.  He just enjoyed seeing teams out there, excelling in their various disciplines.  Unusually enough, in following the premier league, he never had a favourite team, just followed the matches for the game itself.  He sometimes timed his visits to others based on what sports they tended to watch, and whether there was a match or race on that day.

So, for all of the Shanahans and the O’Donoghues, some of those visits weren’t just for the chat.  He loved to watch a good game while visiting.  If there was a cup of tea going, so much the better.

At heart, dad was a family man. While mam was alive he simply worked the farm, came home, and spent time at home in the evenings.  That was his week; that was his life.

It took years for mam to convince dad to have a holiday. He finally relented and brought 6 of us in a caravan to Killarney.  Some years it was lovely, some years it rained non stop. But it was part of a routine, a treat and was something that mam and dad loved doing together.

When we were older mam and dad took holidays on their own to Killarney and up along the west coast, going from B&B to B&B.  One year when they were gone I went looking at a van that dad had left parked at home.

Turns out he’d removed the spark plugs.  Kind hearted he may be. Fool he was not.

It’s one of life’s cruel strokes that mam died aged 64, and dad lost the chance to spend a retirement with her.

However, Dad learned to deal with mam’s death, and over time learned to live a life full of friendship and care of others.

Dad was a person who cared deeply for others. His generosity was born out of instinct and “the right thing to do”. 

Things like you didn’t miss a funeral, you visited the sick, you visited those in a nursing home.  And, you’ll like this one Tim, you paid the priest for the petrol money or the dues at Easter and Christmas.

Years ago, before Thomas the elder was born, dad and mam fostered Martin Rohan for about 6 months.

It was years later before we knew. I suppose that’s because dad didn’t boast or make a fuss.

Martin reckons that this was why he always felt he had a special connection with mam, and why he was always able to get away with things that nobody else could in our house! Martin and the late John Coleman were in a special category there.

Dad tried to avoid being judgemental. For example, if he heard of a relationship breaking down, his only comment would be ‘isn’t that sad’, and show concern for those affected.  He was simply a thoroughly decent and a good person.

A word that has been used a lot over the past few days is ‘Gentleman’.  Dad showed respect for those around him.  He was always polite, and enjoyed spending time with people. He took the time to know others, and took the time to sit with them and to talk.  And he could hold a conversation with virtually anyone. 

He had a great way with people.  I don’t think he ever saw it himself – it’s just the way he was. He was really shy about some things. 

At his 25th wedding anniversary in the Walter Raleigh, I can clearly remember Johnnie and Mattie, his brothers, having to persuade dad to give some bit of a speech. “Tommy, you have to say something, it’s like a groom at a wedding”

He had a great sense of humour. Not so much in the sense of telling jokes, but in the sense of finding humour in the world around us.

He once invited a woman working for the Ordinance Survey into dinner. She was surveying the sheds and buildings on the farm for the latest maps.

As we were eating she got the usual style interrogation. When dad found out she was married, but had no visible ring, she said, “I only wear the ring when I’m going out”

To which he quickly replied

“Shur that’s exactly when you shouldn’t be wearing it!”

You can only imagine the glare he got from mam.

In later years the love that dad had for his siblings and in-laws was so powerful to see.  He had such a special place in his heart for Agnes O’Donoghue, Nora Buckett, Josie Hurley and Joan Hurley.  He loved visiting them, and loved their visits.  He always took the opportunity to visit Mick Shanahan and the late Ted whenever possible.

Dad loved his grandchildren, and you would see his face light up anytime he was with them.  Lena, Andrea, Daniella, Hannah, Thomas and Molly.  He would be so proud of you for helping out today, and he loved you all so much.

Dad lived a full, productive and a happy life.  Never far from those who he loved.  He started with virtually nothing, and has created a legacy that we can look up to.  He worked hard, respected those around him, and by instinct showed kindness and generosity at every turn.

I think we could all learn a bit from him.

As we leave here today, we will bring Dad to St. Fergal’s cemetery and we’ll lay him to rest beside Mam and Finbar. 

Following that, on behalf of all the family, I’d like to invite you to the Thatch for some food afterwards.

I’ll finish by reciting the prayer of Cardinal Newman

O Lord support us all the day long

Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,

And the busy world is hushed

And our life is over, and our work is done

Then, Lord

In your mercy give us a safe lodging

A holy rest, and peace everlasting

Through Christ our Lord


Migratory Habits

Over the past few years many of us have worked under the assumption that our Social Media platforms would continue without too much disruption.

This was in spite of the fact that we often did not agree with the direction of the leaders or the owners of the companies which we used.

Or. Should I say, the companies that used us?
The old phrase is “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold

We have been happy to present our lives to the world using a platform that mined our information and then sold that same information to allow for targeted advertising. The volume of data that was mined is simply mind-boggling.

In 2011 Max Schrems wrote to Facebook to request a copy of the data they had on him. Keep in mind that he had deleted his account the previous year.

The resulting file included a 496 Megabyte PDF file that was just over 800 pages long. (More information on that story here)

And that’s just Facebook.

All of the ‘free’ social media companies are precisely that – companies. Their purpose is to make money, their product is the information that we freely give them.

Enter into the fray one Mr. Elon Musk.

Musk has been an interesting character for years. His antics at Tesla and SpaceX have gathered a huge fan-base.

However, his actions and decisions around the purchase, non-purchase, and actual purchase of Twitter have proven to be disastrous to the company.

There are plenty of software engineers who warn that the cracks are already showing, and that Twitter could collapse very, very soon.

Hence the Great Social Media Migration.

Mastodon has become the home-of-choice for tens of thousands of Twitter users, despite many having misgivings regarding a different level of complexity. But Mastodon isn’t the only alternative out there.

The interesting thing for me has been the whole concept of the Fediverse.

  • There is no ‘owner’ of any given platform
  • Platforms can be hosted over a number of servers
  • Servers can interact with each other (Federate)
  • Servers can block other servers that don’t maintain the same rules or code

So I’m moving from Twitter. Starting on a journey in the Fediverse. Exploring Mastodon and Pixelfed.
I like the idea that my data is mine to share, I like the fact that there are no ads.

If you decide to jump onboard, go for it. The tone on the server is very positive. But if you do join, don’t be the product. Subscribe, or throw a few euro towards the project. I think we all benefit in the end.

The Minister’s Real Speech (2021 remix)

Minister Norma Dolores Foley-Umbridge

Hem, Hem. Hello, is this turned on?

Good afternoon my dear teachers, my colleagues. I know that you were unable to invite me today, and that’s such a pity, because I have such good news to share with you.

I know this is a one way video, and also that my twitter machine only seems to work one-way, but I can just imagine all of your smiling faces looking up at me as we have such fun at conference.

Well, it is lovely to be back at conference, and there are a few messages that I’m sure you’ll be delighted to hear.

We at the Ministry care about education. We encourage innovation and change.
Sometimes, we like change for change’s sake, so long as it doesn’t cost us too
much. Sometimes, we need to prune. Especially if you’re up to something too
expensive for our tastes.

First, Schools Are Safe™.
I know that this is true because Micheál has told me. That nasty virus does not
affect our Wonderful Children so you know that you can be safe when you’re in

We have done everything in our power, that we’re bothered to do. We’ve told
you to open the windows and have given you permission to turn on the heating
for more than five minutes a day. We’ve told you just what kind of mask we’d
recommend that you buy from your own money.

Oh, I have heard rumours that some of you think that smaller class sizes
would help. This is not true, and if I hear any of you repeating it, then you
will have detention – and will be expecting you to write out “I Must Not
Tell Lies” until you get the message.

So really, listen to all I’ve said and then just do what I say, not what I
do in that lovely Convention Centre. Soo much space.

Second, You Will Get Your Vaccine
Again, this will happen when we’re good and ready, or have our stuff together,
or when we can be bothered, whichever is later.

Now, I can almost hear the trouble-makers say that the government has
changed the vaccination schedule. Piffle, I say. The vaccination schedule is as
it always has been. There have been no changes, and if you thought it was going
to be May, or June, then you surely realise that we actually meant August or
September (or possibly later)

I honestly don’t know what the fuss is because, as we all know, Schools Are Safe™

Now, I have Exciting News!
Our latest ICT grants have come out, and you’ll be delighted to know that we
have allocated lots of money to ICT. Now, it may look like we have cut it by
about half, but look at my smile, and listen as I tell you how much you did
get! It’s wonderful!

Extra good news because we have been able to secure magical machines that
won’t need replacing in a few years, so in the year 2035, you’ll be able to
(expected to, even) keep working with the machines we’ll let you buy in

Now, you may not be able to get them all in one go, but you could always
bake up an industrial quantity of rice crispy buns and sell them to each other!

Apparently, there have been some ruptions about support for children who
have , hem, hem extra needs. Apparently Josepha got in trouble for using the
word ‘normal’ so I’d better tread carefully.


As I said, I am firmly in the corner of these children.

I will stand by their needs and be fully aware of their needs. However, that
doesn’t mean that I’m actually going to DO anything. Changing the way that
things are done is not why I got in to politics.
But, I cannot stress enough that I’m for those children. I’ll use lots of words
to say so, (but just don’t go expecting anything like extra funding, more SNAs,
allocations for next year and the like)

So that’s it from me for now! Remember, the Ministry supports you, and if you have an issue please see me for detention once we’re back in school.  I’ll ask you to keep your distance from me.  Oh, and do bring a quill.

The Poorer Relation

Education in Ireland has had a few rough years.

There are a number of issues to contend with:

  • Large Class Sizes
  • Historical underspend in infrastructure
  • General poor funding of the education sector
  • Political ill-will towards teachers and our unions
  • Poor relationship between the Department of Education and stakeholders in general

There are, of course, many more issues that would raise the blood pressure of the very many of us who care about how education happens in this country.

A key issue – a measurable issue, is the financial value that the State puts on the Education Sector. On this measure alone, we can see that the Government, the Minister, and thus, the Department, severely undervalue education.

The World Bank shows that, of the OECD countries, Ireland spent 3.5% on education in 2017. The same year Norway spent 7.9%, while Sweden spent 7.6%. The OECD average that year being 5%. (Source here)

The evidence of this lack of funding is everywhere. We have numerous schools where classes are in permanent prefabs; we have chronic underfunding of initiatives; we have higher class sizes than most other European Countries. The chart below from the C.S.O shows that, in 2016, there were 22 European countries with smaller class sizes than us at Primary level. At Upper Secondary level that number rises to 30.


30 countries in Europe have smaller classes at second level than us. (CSO Data page here)

This is all happening in the context of rising numbers of students each year. Our schools are bursting at the seams, and any chance of expanding buildings or opening new schools are tied up in labyrinthine paperwork and applications.

And yet despite all of this chronic underfunding, our students still manage to do well on standardised tests. (Not a fair metric, but they do have the advantage of being measurable)

To be clear, this success at tests has happened despite the chronic underfunding. In Ireland teachers have regularly filled the gaps and put in that extra effort to help their students. What the chart above does not reflect is the level of pastoral care provided in our schools. The time spent in relationship building, the voluntary out-of-school activities that take place, the school shows, the matches, the tours.

A friend of mine now teaches in Ireland after a number of years teaching in the UK. One of his earlier impressions was just how little funding there is in schools. We are all familiar with the Windows 7 machines being held together with good will and wishful thinking. This is not sustainable.

As the population grows we need to look at how to fund education properly. There are a few aspects that need to be fixed:

  • The abhorrent two-tier pay system whereby anyone employed after 2011 is automatically on an inferior pay-scale
  • The cuts to capitation that have never returned to pre-recession levels
  • Proper infrastructure funding – buildings, broadband, computers

With regard to the last point, yesterday’s announcement by the minister for a further investment of €200 million for ICT between now and 2027 is ambiguous. Is that ‘further investment’ simply picking up where the last round of funding ended. In which case the €200 million will work out as an annual reduction on ICT spend.

Unfortunately, despite my wishful thinking, I believe that the current government has no intention of fixing any of these issues as they do not want to put any more money into our schools.

So yes. We have had a rough few years, but they are likely to continue for a while yet.

The Debacle of Calculated Grades

Today the big news is that of the ASTI withdrawing from talks about the Leaving Certificate 2021.

“Why would a Teaching Union withdraw from such important talks?” I hear you ask.

The line from the ASTI is that the primary option being discussed was that of Calculated Grades. (or “Predicted Grades” as we called them until we were told not to)

The simple fact is that Calculated grades are unfeasible for the class of 2021. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • This cohort of students will have missed approximately 25% of their school time since last year
  • They have not sat full-scale formal exams since Christmas 2019. It’s now 2021. Yes, you could say they had this year’s Christmas exams, but they were managed in an unusual way, and the implementation varied greatly from school to school. They will have had no 5th year Summer exam (Yes, some did, and this is important. Not everybody had the same access to online exams due to their own disadvantage)
  • There is no parity of access to education during the pandemic. Students who are at home largely rely on their families resources to do well. Think of trying to work on a phone versus a laptop; having fibre broadband or patchy mobile coverage; Rural Vs Urban access to the internet. Having your own room where you can work versus a busy family in a small house

The class of 2020 had a profile behind them. Whilst their education was severely disrupted with the lockdown in March, they had a reservoir of grades and progress from which to predict/calculate a grade for each student.

The class of 2021 does not have this same resource. For that reason Calculated/Predicted grades would be an unfair burden to place upon them.

There is a secondary issue I have with calculated grades.

Last year the Department issued circular 0037/2020 which laid out the process of calculated grades.

As the Summer progressed, a number of the procedures in this circular were ignored or bypassed.

For example:

  • on page 33 of the procedures teachers are instructed NOT TO RETAIN parts A or B. This was later changed
  • We were told that the ranking order would not be released to the public. This was changed as reported here.

The whole process was fraught.

  • Students were concerned that their work would not be effectively recognised
  • There were numerous concerns regarding grade inflation
  • There were concerns as to what this meant for college applications and college places
  • Grades were adjusted by the department, famously in this case of these twins, where one lad had his grade reduced
  • There was no real appeals process. A student could only appeal the process, not the result.
  • By the time the grades were released the department had still not finalised plans for written exams – the students who had lost out would lose a year of college.

And this is the system that was being proposed today is not what was implied in this statement from the department.

bilateral discussions with Department officials to progress work on two distinct processes for Leaving Certificate 2021: planning for examinations and scoping out a corresponding measure, different to examinations that can also be offered to students.

The clear emphasis was on planning for examinations, with the ‘corresponding measure’ in second place.

Enough time has been lost, and the minister has failed our Leaving Certs. It’s time she and her department started taking this seriously and put real plans in place for our Leaving Certs.

Squaring the Circle

After months of speculation we had an email from the Minister on Friday revealing the plans for the Leaving Certificate of 2021.

Well. No. We didn’t. What we had was an email that was somewhat high on ambition but was ‘yet to meet expectations’. Sigh.

Unfortunately, I’m in danger of giving out too much. I would like to try to be constructive, so…

What could the Leaving Certificate Certificate, 2021 look like?

First up, what are the limiting factors?

Top of the list has to be the most up-to-date health advice. Based on the advice for running schools, one scenario is that exams will be limited to two hours.

Curriculum gaps. This year’s cohort of students have lost a huge amount of time of their class contact. In 2020 they were out of school from mid-March until the Summer. They have now been out for 4 weeks. The most deliriously optimistic guess would have us back on 22nd February. It could, however be St. Patrick’s day or even after Easter before this year’s Leaving Certs will be back in a classroom.

These students will have missed out on 16 – 19 weeks of in-house tuition. With the school year being 33 weeks, that’s approximately 25% of tuition gone. (That’s not even taking into account the fact that the last few weeks are for revision.)

Yes, you say, we have been working hard with distance learning. And yes, I agree. However, not all students are able to engage with online learning. There may be factors such as access, mental health, etc, that prevent the student from engaging with digital platforms. In the interests of fairness, this needs to be recognised. Students cannot be put at a disadvantage if they cannot access the curriculum.

Curriculum Balance. There is no real template telling teachers how to teach their subjects, and in what order the syllabus must be covered. Some practical subjects may have projects finished by now, planning to cover theory using online learning if this situation were to materialise. Other may have focused on theory earlier, following the traditional way of working on the practical afterwards.

In short, it’s impossible to shorten the curriculum at this point, as this will disadvantage one cohort of students.

And a possible solution?

Choice. Choice will have to be a foundation characteristic of how to address the various issues.

  • As a general structure, take most papers and make them of a two hour duration
  • The paper will need to cover the range of the full syllabus, as students may have covered any area of it in their school time.
  • But, with the general structure known, students can be directed by their teachers to focus on the areas that they have covered in class. Maybe shorten some of the questions so that the maximum spent on some of these areas will be 30 minutes (2 hour paper, remember?)
  • In the cases there there is an external component there will need to be a balancing act
  • Has the school completed this component?
    • If yes, how do you account for those marks
    • If not, how do you avoid disadvantaging those students
  • One potential answer here would be to add a page to the exam paper. If the student fills out that he/she is being graded with the external component, then their time in the exam is cut slightly shorter, and they answer one question less.

This would be one really impressive balancing act to pull off, but it would be a good way to allow fairness for students.

Now, I’d never consider myself an expert in curriculum planning, but we need a starting point for any solution. Take ideas, trash them out, and trash them if needs be.

Our Leaving Cert students are hurting. Many of them are extremely anxious with the continual wave of leaks and kites that bounce different theories and scenarios around.

I sincerely hope that the Minister, the Department and the SEC can get around a table with our representatives, the Unions, and figure out a solution that will be fair to our Leaving Certs.

Dear Norma II – This Time It’s Personnel

Dear Norma,

I know that you’re busy, what with being a minister and all, so I’ll forgive you for not writing back.

But I needed to write back to you, Norma, because truthfully, I’m worried, concerned, angry.

You see, Norma, you are wedded to the idea that schools are safe. And that is diametrically opposed to what the vast majority of teachers believe.

In support of your argument you, and your agents, have referred to ideas such as;

  • Children don’t spread virus
  • Schools are safe™
  • Teachers are mostly young and therefore not as vulnerable to the virus

This last point in support of keeping teachers further down the priority list for vaccination.

Children Don’t Spread Virus

Anybody who has ever spent time in school would laugh at the idea of children not spreading a virus. I would love to tell children this. The idea that just wistfully getting a virus to stop spreading amongst children is wonderful. Think of the treatment regimes for Norovirus, the Common Cold, HEAD LICE!

In case you’re not aware, Covid 19 is spread by airborne transmission. But, Don’t take my word from it. The W.H.O outlines the transmission mechanisms here

Children do get ill with Corona. And thankfully many of them do not present with serious complications, but enough do for them to be tested, and this data from clearly indicates that Covid is rampant across younger age groups – 63% are under 45. No magic wishful thinking will prevent children from getting it.

Source –

Schools Are Safe! ™

One of the greatest pieces of propaganda from your department has been the line that “Schools Are Safe™”

And yes, this may have been the case in September to December when the maximum number of cases was 1,284 on 18th October.

However, we are in a radically different position now. Community transmission is rife, and our 7 day average is 3,601. Did I mention that we have stopped testing close contacts because our system is already overwhelmed?

Did I mention that we have no real capacity left in our hospitals, that there are currently over 2,000 people in hospital with Covid, and 200 in ICU?

Did I mention that 6,400 health care workers are currently out due to Covid?

Did I mention that YOU, Minister, have cut the PPE budget for schools, and that those 6,400 health care workers were wearing correct PPE, and were presumably trained in its correct usage?

So no. Forgive me if I disagree with your assertion that schools are safe. In fact it is you who should ask for forgiveness for such a brazen lie.

Teachers Are Mostly Young and Not as much At Risk

Finally, Norma. Teachers are mostly young?

When did you last step into a staff room?

As with any profession, teaching has a range of age groups. To blithely state that they are mostly young is a nonsense.

To then go on to assert that those teachers are not as much at risk? That is sheer recklessness. Going on this chart, Ireland has had 174,843 Covid cases diagnosed so far. Of those, tragically, 2,616 have died. That’s a mortality rate of 1.5%

So, for every 1,000 cases we can expect 15 people to die. Think again of our 7 day average of 3,601. That’s about 54 deaths a day.

So, Norma. You are happy to put teachers into over-crowded, poorly-ventilated classrooms for 6 hours a day, with a 40% cut in PPE, and then claim that ‘Schools Are Safe’?

No. That is not acceptable. As the Minister you have a responsibility around the Health & Welfare of teachers and students. You are failing in that responsibility. You are happy to put us in harm’s way, with a cut in PPE grants.

At what point do you accept that this course of action is wrong? What will it take for you to recognise that this isn’t safe?

It’s time for a serious re-think on this policy.

Dear Norma

I don’t believe that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. But rather than wasting time with the (inevitably) one way introductions, I’d like to bring a few matters to your attention.

People are scared

In the past few days the pandemic has escalated on a scale beyond anyone’s worst fears.

  • January 1st – 1,574
  • January 2nd – 3,394
  • January 3rd – 4,962
  • January 4th – 6,110
  • January 5th – 5,325
  • January 6th – 7,836
  • January so far? 29,201

The mortality rate for Covid 19 is approximately 1.9%. That’s based on 121,154 cases in Ireland with 2,299 people dead. (Info from

So based on that, of the 29,201 who have contracted Covid in the past 6 days, approximately 550 people will die.

It is in the face of this explosion of numbers that you keep insisting that schools are safe. That may have been the case when the national situation was of the order of 100 cases a day. We are now in a radically different situation. You have not recognised or accepted that fact. It is, however, a reality that is very stark for thousands of teachers and students across our country.

I know that you’ve worked as a teacher, but you may have forgotten the realities of classroom life.

  • Many of our schools are old and poorly insulated/ventilated/heated
  • Our class sizes are among the largest in Europe (ours is 25, average in Europe is 20 – Irish Examiner)

Wasted Opportunities

We are just a few days away from the 10 month point when Leo stood at a podium in the U.S, and announced the first lockdown.

One would have hoped that in the intervening period you, and your colleagues, would have taken the opportunities to plan for the worst.

Instead you decided to hope for the best. Government policy over the past few months seems to have involved a large degree of optimism that some form of Irish Exceptionalism would keep the virus at bay.

In the intervening period you and your colleagues

  • Allowed travel to continue into Ireland
  • Removed Summer lockdown restrictions faster than had been recommended by NEPHET
  • Ignored NEPHET advice at the start of December
  • Failed to implement a comprehensive Contact Tracing System so that in the Autumn those diagnosed positive had to inform their own close contacts
  • Failed to plan for an inevitable increase in cases. Specifically – there was no plan ‘B’ when it came to reopening schools, let alone a plan ‘C’.
  • Cut the PPE grant for schools by 40%.

Where does all this lead us?

We are now in a crisis that is the result of a Virus but is compounded by political ineptitude.

You, minister, and your colleagues have failed us. You have failed teachers, you have failed students, you have failed families.

When it became apparent that the national situation was rapidly deteriorating, you were absent.

The ‘Plan’

Even with the situation deteriorating rapidly, and with the CMO warning of the worst to come, it took days for the Cabinet to meet and decide what to do.

You ask students to return to school for 3 days a week but have not given any reassurance that this is approved by NEPHET. There has been no plan for child-minding for teachers of young children, there has been no plan or strategy for managing distance learning. There has been precious little investment in ICT.

You and your government are failing us.

Eulogy for Finbar

Two years ago, on February 6th, we found my younger brother had died – of a heart attack as we found out later. Pretty shocking for a 46 year old, fit man.
What follows is the eulogy I delivered for Finbar. I tried to give a flavour of just what a character he was, and how much he was loved by so many people around him.

I’ve held this for a while, but I wanted to share it on Finbar’s second anniversary.

May he rest in peace.


Before I begin, I have some words here from Jenny in Australia.

We just can’t believe you are really gone Fin. I will never forget all the magical times we shared. So much adventure and so many gorgeous memories. So many times you brought laughter to us all, and fun and music. I still think of you whenever I hear Garth Brooks or Neil Young or Thin Lizzy, your incredible singing voice and your infectious laugh. So blessed to have been able to call you a friend. So incredibly sad we won’t be able to meet again from across the seas. What a void you have left in all our hearts. I will miss you until the day I die also. Yours truly. Jenny.

I would like to begin with a few ‘thank yous’, and some apologies in advance.  I’m going to name a few people here, where I can remember the names. To those whom I have left out, and there were so many of you who helped – I’m sorry that I have left you out.

From the moment we found Finbar had died, people have been amazing.

The guards who arrived to the house were considerate, patient, understanding and kind.  They helped us start a difficult journey that has brought us to today, and a journey that has been filled with the thoughts, prayers, and kind moments of so many people.

I’d like to thank Dr. Motherway who came out as soon as he could after we contacted him on Tuesday morning.  

Within hours, a group of Finbar’s friends had travelled to the Council yard in Killeagh and liberated a trailer load of tarmac, found a low-loader, a lot of shovels, and plenty of willing hands to fill the pot-holes in our road, clean the place up, and make the difficult journey to meet Finbar, and all the rest of us, that little bit easier. 

I can’t begin to name you, gentlemen, but your kindness and generosity has been special.

Deckie Lee, Pat Walsh, Liam Fitzgerald.  Finbar was so close to you and would be delighted that you were so much a part of the past few days.

Thank you to the council, they provided a road sweeper and helped make the yards good enough for parking all the cars that passed through.

I don’t think the home farm ever had staffing levels like it did in the past 4 days.  Thank you so much lads – what you did eased the burden on Mark and Dad.

Inside the house of Mark and Maura generosity abounded.  Christine brought a burco boiler and an industrial volume of cups.  One of Finbar’s friends arrived with trays of sandwiches. People brought candles, cakes and plenty of crazy stories of the kind of things that Finbar got up to.  Elaine has been a star in the kitchen

Trish has been wonderful, taking care of all of our children for hours at a time.  Others were willing to provide beds for strangers who had travelled. People have been willing to be taxi drivers, people were willing to just stand patiently and be a shoulder to cry on.

What you all have done is wonderful, and a tribute to just how many lives Finbar touched.

I’d like to thank Colin Bullman and the staff from Egan’s funeral home.  They have been so patient, sensitive and calm – a huge help to us trying to figure out what to do next.

I’d like to thank Canon Browne who came out to us on Tuesday.  Canon, your sensitivity and care was very much appreciated. I’d like to thank Barry Fitzgerald for organising the church, chairs and mats, to Ann Keniry for the flowers.  I’d like to thank our musicians today. St. Augustine said ‘Who sings once prays twice’. Finbar loved music, and would have been very grateful for what you have done to bring beauty and music to our day.

I’d like to thank Fr. Tim who has been a friend for years, and who has helped us over the past few days.  I would like to thank the other priests who are with us today. Fr. Pat, Canon Browne, Fr. Damian, and Fr. Eamonn who has been a friend of our family for a number of years. 

I would like to thank the hundreds of people who came to Mark & Maura’s house over the past 3 days.  I’d like to thank all of those of you who travelled to be with us and support us today. A special thank you to those of you who travelled long distances.

In our thoughts today are those who can’t be with us.  Patrick O’Donoghue, Helen, Breda, Anthony, Nora and Josie.  We know that we are in their thoughts, just as they are in ours.

We think of those who are in far countries who would have wanted to be with us today.

And so.

Finbar, the King of Youth, Peter Pan, aged, 46, 36, or 26.  Finbar was full of life and full of light. The man with that smirk, always ready to play.

He was a light that shone brightly, and brought joy, laughs and fun to a lot of people’s lives.

How do you sum up a life like this?

In the early 1990’s Finbar joined the Killeagh Exodus to Australia with the working visa scheme. What may have been the high point of this was his short career on a ranch as the only fella working alongside a load of women.  Finbar worked from horseback, minding the cattle, and developed a love of going up in the helicopter any time he could.  

While in Australia he bought a touring bike, with the intention of a big tour and shipping the bike back to Ireland.  An accident with a random Kangaroo put an end to the trip, the bike and the kangaroo itself. 

Finbar ended up in hospital.

A sign of the friendships he built is that Marty & Liz, new lifelong friends from Australia, flew to where he was in hospital and brought him to their home for recuperation.

This accident was only one of a series of broken bones.  I think the count we came up with was 18 breaks in total.

Morris O’Connor says he and Finbar used to compare x-ray sheets for a while.  

He didn’t allow the accident  to cut his trip short, Monica flew out to visit – he and she had a very close bond.  

As part of the trip they flew to New Zealand and back.  As part of the trip, things were going so well that they decided to announce to the cabin crew that they had just got engaged.  Of course the newly engaged couple were treated to free champagne for the rest of the 4 hours of so of the flight.  

The results were predictable.

Back in Ireland Finbar never lost the wandering bug.  Mark tells a story of one time Finbar knew someone who was relocating from Spain and had 2 bikes that needed to travel with him. Finbar flew there so they could make a road trip of it together.

Finbar loved travel, and regularly collected little things from the different places he had been.  His house has loads of little souvenirs and relics of the places he has been.  

I mentioned how Finbar built friendships.  One of the things that struck me was that a common thing people have said over the past few days is that ‘Finbar always had time for people’.  He always took time out to phone ( and he liked to make phone calls…), to visit, or to stop on the road.  

As with Dad, Finbar went to funerals.  Not because he had to, but because he cared.  He cared deeply about people, and would go and spend time with them.  No words were needed. Just being there was a help.

Finbar was a gent who never bad mouthed people, and didn’t bear grudges.  He loved animals, and the relationship with Rufus the Goat is going to become the stuff of legend.

If you haven’t met Rufus, he’s about this high, and will eat pretty much anything.  He likes to buck, and has scared more than a few walkers in his time. Apologies to Ann & Noreen Power.

Rufus would follow Fin around the farm, and Louise has a photo of Rufus putting his head on Finbar’s shoulder, looking at him.  Both with a similar beard.

Finbar would try anything.  I have a memory as a teenager of Finbar & Mark replacing the rear axle on an old car we had.  No instructruction manual, just the two of them figuring it out as they went. Mark & Finbar were closer in age than the rest of us, and as kids they were inseparable, except for the times when they wanted to kill each other.

I was saying he’d try anything.

There’s a photo somewhere of Finbar rodeo riding in Australia. He tried paragliding, bike racing, kayaking, shooting, deer cooking, swimming, cycling, guitar, anything.  With Micháel Fitzgerald he got to act in a little film. He even sang if you were persuasive enough and had the right liquid bribery handy. He lived life to the full.

But, what ever story you tell about Finbar, it always comes back to the relationships that he built.  He wasn’t always a positive influence – Breda Budds had to have words with him after keeping Therese and Irene out until 6AM one morning.  He spent many late nights in the company of the Kenirys, he loved Louise and was a great fan of her voice. 

Finbar didn’t worry about going to mass every week.  However he did have a very deep spirituality. He would say the Rosary, and he never failed to bless himself passing a graveyard, it was just one of the ways he showed a connection to something deeper that affects all of our lives.

Finbar adored Thomas, Lena, Andrea, Daniella and Molly.  And, they loved him. He was the uncle who was larger than life for them. He was generous and playful to a fault.  Try and get a small child down from the high from playing with Finbar and you’ll know what I mean.  

I started by saying that Finbar was full of light.  2 ½ years ago that light shone ever brighter. Louise, Finbar loved you, he adored you.  You brought so much joy to him that he shone more brightly still and it made all of us so happy that you were part of his life. 

The journeys you made together were good for both of you, and we all loved seeing you coming down to visit.  I know from speaking to your dad, Seamus, that your family loved Finbar as well, and saw just how much he loved you.

He was, though, more practical than romantic.  

Girls love bags.  So when it came to Louise’s birthday, Finbar got her a tool bag.  She now has a wide range of tools, but nowhere to keep any makeup.  But, Louise, being the special person she is, saw the joke and loved him still.

Finbar had one of his dreams come through last August.  He & Louise hosted a mini-festival down the glen behind our house with the Eirball charity campervan run.  It was an amazing success. Yes, we all got soaked a dozen times over with the wind & rain and Yes, many people had to be towed out of the fields. 

But, a night of music, snacks and drinks with friends around a series of barrel fires and sheltering under gazebos made the night incredible & memorable.  It was brilliant.  

Louise, you have been a light in our lives for 2 ½ years, and know that you will always have a place in our hearts and in our homes.


Finbar lived a full life.  It was a life packed with fun, with chat, with friends.  

He was a light in our lives, and our lives are that bit poorer without him.

But our faith teaches us that that isn’t the end of Finbar’s story. 

We believe that Finbar has gone to God, to be with mam.  And, as Maura said, she may have a few words for Finbar when he gets there.

And so.

As we gather today, and in the days ahead we will share stories of Finbar.  We’ll remember him sometimes with tears, and sometimes with laughter. And as sure as night turns into day, our lives will become brighter again with the memory of the special gift that was my brother Finbar.

May You Rest In Peace

And may your soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace


After we leave the church today we will head to Killeagh. We are going to park the cars outside Killeagh Church.

We will follow Finbar as his friends carry his coffin to the new Graveyard on the Cork Road and Finbar will be laid to rest beside Mam.  

Afterwards, I would like to invite you all to the Walter Raleigh Hotel in Youghal where we have food provided.  Please come, and bring stories of Finbar. We would love to spend time with you.

We will have cards and pens on each table, and would love if you could write down your little stories of Finbar for us to share and keep.

That will be the end of the official stuff.  But I’m guessing the Mt. Uniake could get a bit busy this Friday evening.

I’d like to finish with a prayer that I have always liked.

O Lord support us all the day long,
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes
and the busy world is hushed
the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then Lord, in your mercy give us a safe home
a holy rest
and peace everlasting

The US Marines & Me

Waay back in the 20th Century I worked for a while with the banquets in Bunratty and Knappogue castles. It was a great job. I was one of the butlers there, and got to spend every night eating good food, singing, and spending time as part of a brilliant team.

Not me, but this is basically the outfit I wore. You don’t get the tights in this image though…
Image from the Shannon Heritage Website:‎

In September of 1998 President Bill Clinton was in Ireland and attended an event in Limerick. The day he flew back to America his transport detail were allowed a bit of down time.

And enter the Marines! You’ve heard of Marine 1. The Helicopter that flies the president on shorter trips. Logical really, but to bring that helicopter means you need to bring a whole support team of mechanics & crew. Along with a security detail. Every one of these men were either marines or ex-marines.

After a few days of almost zero sleep and being on duty, they were given a night out in the castle. And did they make the most of it.

As a butler I got to do my share of serving the food, getting to work the tables with the marines. They were a VERY fun loving lot – though a few had a bit too much of a fascination with my outfit (requiring the put down of “Just how long have you been away from land, sailor?”)

One of the features of the banquet was that each night one person had to be put in the dungeon for some various infraction of decorum. (no shortage of candidates, then). That night the man we picked was the pilot of Marine 1, call-sign “growler”.

So, into the dungeon with Growler, and he had to sing to earn his freedom. So, dutifully he stood, and said “I’d like my bretheren to sing with me…” and he launched into the Marine anthem. Instantly all the marines in the hall jumped to attention and roared the anthem at full volume. Every jaw in the room dropped.

They weren’t done yet.

Part of my duty was to bid farewell to all the guests, being at the door as they filed out.

The Marines had all perfected what we referred to as the Bill Clinton Handshake. Shake with your right hand while giving a solid pat on the shoulder with your left.

Thirty something marines later and my shoulder was definitely none the better for it. Tenderised would be a good description.

Anyway, I went home at that point, but missed the next bit…

The Ladies Of The Castle went out in Limerick for the rest of the night with a group of marines. Talking about it the following night, it appears that each of them was a perfect gentleman. I think there was a hint of disappointment in their voices.