| 7.8°C Belfast

Tom Kelly

Why those snowdrops in Seamus Mallon's garden - and their promise of hope - were so apt on eve of funeral

Tom Kelly


Celebrated life: Seamus Mallon

Celebrated life: Seamus Mallon

Celebrated life: Seamus Mallon

As I reflected this week on the life of Seamus Mallon and by speaking about him to the media my sadness ebbed away to many happier memories of the man.

Thinking about his yarns and speeches somehow softened the bluntness of death.

In an age when too many people (men in particular) seem to have lost the ability to express their feelings, cry or accept loss, it is reassuring to know that talking to others actually helps dispel darkness.

It is one reason why I hope that the tradition of Irish wakes never dies out. They are a particularly Catholic phenomenon though many Protestants have also adopted wakes in rural areas knowing this is the way Catholics pay respect to the dead.

The social aspect of a wake also puts a ring of protection around the bereaved. It the community's way of saying the deceased was one of their own.

As I made my way to the wake of Seamus Mallon last Sunday, I noticed the clusters of snowdrops on the borders of Mallon's expansive garden. Snowdrops are a sign of renewal after the darkness of winter.

There's a Christian fairytale that an angel took pity on Adam and Eve as they were evicted from the paradise of Eden and turned the snowflakes falling from his hand into snowdrops.

Eve allegedly asked the angel why he had done this and the angel replied: "To show you that winter will end, flowers will bloom again, the sun will shine. This gift I give you is the gift of hope."

Seamus would have known of that story.

In his final weeks, Seamus, the avid gardener, would have seen his snowdrops - 'the gift of hope' - break through the hard soil.


Seamus Mallon's daughter Orla at his funeral

Seamus Mallon's daughter Orla at his funeral


Only a few months ago in one of his final interviews, Seamus said: "If we don't have hope we don't have anything." I resolved to plant snowdrops for next year.

The Requiem Mass and service format was truly a celebration of Seamus Mallon's life and his fingerprints were all over it.

The presentation of his life gifts made me smile - a picture of him with Pope John Paul II, a pot of roses, a book for 'Poppy' made by his granddaughter, a fishing reel and a set of Rosapenna golf balls. As Pat Hume remarked, Seamus was a man of many interests outside of politics. And that is what made him connect with people - whether it was sharing a racing tip or having a tipple.

The SDLP featured prominently throughout the ecumnical service. This was surprising to this writer as at many political funerals the political contribution is skimmed over. Not in this service - the SDLP was writ large.

The fine homily by Archbishop Martin about peacemaking and non-violence could have been written by Seamus himself. So on message was the archbishop's theme that he stole some of the shine from the eloquent reflection from Seamus's friend, Tim O'Connor.

The little church in Mullaghbrack is no basilica but it was what Seamus chose.

And although there were dignitaries by the bucket load, it was a service for the people to whom Seamus was closest too - those from the parish and Markethill. The attempts to impose protocols were futile. Nothing could keep his people from him.

Seamus was fond of poetry and Heaney appeared omnipresent from The Cure at Troy to the Canton of Expectation. Only the lament of the Bard of Armagh brought a tear to an otherwise celebratory service.

A spritely Brid Rodgers joked outside the church: "I suppose The Laughing Boy would have been a bit too much!" The former Agriculture Minister was referring to the Brendan Behan ballad about Michael Collins. It was one of two songs which the late Seamus Mallon used to air at SDLP conferences.

It would have been a step too far but there is a line in the ballad which no doubt struck a chord with Mrs Rodgers as she bid farewell to her old colleague. "Ah what will mend my broken heart, I have lost my laughing boy, Go raibh maith agat for all you tried to do."

Belfast Telegraph