Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, June 14th 2008


parentsEvery time the seasons change I think about my father. In early spring I see him jotting down the names and dates-of-birth of his latest crop of Under-10s, gleefully identifying future corner-backs and budding centre-fielders. When the sun comes out in May, I envision us striking out for the beach at Enniscrone. (You always know when it’s summer there, he’d say, because the old ladies wear their overcoats unbuttoned.) In August, he’s picking blackberries to make jam. And when the frosts return in late November, he’s making breadcrumbs for the birds that come to forage in our garden.

On the balmy summer evening I write, I can imagine I’m standing on the pier at Urlar Abbey. My father is sloshing about in the lake, wiggling his toes in the air and making all sorts of improbable claims about the approximate water temperature. When he gets dressed, we sit on the wall of the graveyard where his grandparents are buried, and chat about this and that. If there’s something on my mind, he’ll light a cigar and listen awhile. Then he’ll tell me a story – usually one he’s told me many times before – but one which contains some nugget of wisdom he thinks is worth imparting again.

My father was a kind, witty man who enjoyed the simpler things in life: a Hamlet cigar, the bit of rasher and an occasional outing to Croke Park. He was a voracious reader who never had the opportunity to study in university, but who was proud to attend the graduations of all four of his children. He was a teetotaller and an avid indoor soccer player who was studying history through the Open University when he died of a heart attack at the age of 58.

When a loved one passes away, particularly when they pass away unexpectedly, it’s tempting to hope that a beautiful funeral service, a well tended grave and the kind remembrances of friends and neighbours can somehow fill the void. In my initial grief, I felt that my father was still very close by, perhaps just dozing on the couch in the other room. But as time passed, the illusion of that proximity began to fade. Eighteen months after his death, I’d love to know what he makes of Barack Obama, the books I’ve read and Billy Joe Padden at full back for Mayo. At times it felt as though he had abandoned me. That he had neglected to return my call. But even anger faded over time, replaced eventually by a kind of grudging acceptance.

Every time the seasons change I dream about my father. It’s always the same dream. It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and we’re walking down from the church in Kilkelly to dinner in my grandmother’s house. I want to tell him that I love him: an awkward sort of transaction I would not have inflicted upon him while he was alive. But in the weird logic of this dream, while I am aware my father is dead, I also know that he is as yet unaware of this development. I don’t want to arouse his suspicion. So I say nothing, and just savour his company, while he regales me with another anecdote that he has, more than likely, told me a thousand times before.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. To be honest, I doubt my father Barry would be too upset at missing the occasion. He never cared that much for cards or presents. As long as his family were happy and healthy, it could have been Pancake Tuesday or Paraguayan Independence Day for all he would have known or cared. But I know that I will miss him. To any other Irish men out there lucky enough to be spending tomorrow with their fathers, I don’t for a moment advocate you make any rash declarations of affection. Maybe hit the auld fucker a box on the arm. And if he starts to tell you that story about how he could have played for Real Madrid, smile affectionately and listen as though he were telling it for the very first time.