“Pat was a good man who said his beads and will go straight to heaven so we need have no worries and we’ll get on with the prayers.”
That was the homily at a funeral of a Catholic neighbour, some fifteen years ago or more. I had only attended because the family asked me to go and do some prayers. The priest told me that any prayers I did would have to be after he had finished the burial.
Maybe it was an attempt at a calculated insult, or maybe he believed that Protestants were so far down the scale of things that it would be less embarrassing if we were not there at all. After the burial is finished just about anyone can say anything; the message was clear, “You count for nothing”.
In retrospect, it was a relief to have had no involvement in a ceremony that excelled in its banality. Apart from the one sentence homily, the deceased’s name occurred about twice in the service. There were no orders of service, no music, nothing to recognize the departing of a man who had been known and loved throughout the little rural community.
Maybe the priest regarded the funeral as an inconvenience; maybe he had another engagement, though, in a small rural parish, it would be hard to imagine where, but if the script writers of Father Ted had been looking for inspiration on perfunctory ceremonies, they wouldn’t have been short of material – it was all done in about twenty minutes.
In a country with rich traditions in literature, language and music, it seemed odd to sink to blandness. Even if there had been some prayer, some poem, some piece from the past, something to rise above the rushed mumbling of a liturgy, where the priest would start the next line before the people had finished the previous response. Ireland need never be banal.
Thoughts of the funeral arose listening to Morning Ireland on RTE Radio this morning. Ireland is bursting with cultural events in the summertime, the Boyle International Festival began on Friday; all around the country there are things happening – so what did the RTE producer think was worthy of coverage? The wife carrying championships in Co Kerry.
It was an item that might have been good for a bit of craic on a local radio station – but this was our national public service broadcaster, for which we pay every year with that poll tax called the television licence. Craggy Island would have been proud of getting such an event onto national radio.
Is this really where Ireland has reached?