Bryan MacMahon

During the week I got a lovely message of support from Judy and Eoin MacMahon in Listowel and I was just rereading Bryan’s great book, The Storyman which was first published in 1994. 

There is this great insight into life by Bryan towards the end of the book.

“For me the most compelling memory of an attitude to death is that of an old man I visited over seventy years ago in the Kilmoyley-ODorney area of North Kerry. He was one of the last who,I heard, had knowledge of a Gaelic poet called Jack Brenain who is reputed to have made the original poem squib on “the Flea”…

As I moved through the fertile countryside, seeking information, I was directed to a dilapidated cottage at the end of a rough boreen. “Hurry, if it’s information you want,” I was told, “the old man is in very bad shape.”

A smoky smelly interior. A post holding up the sagging roof. With daylight oozing weakly through a small grimy window, I made out an old bed in the corner. On it lay a figure covered with a tattered patchwork quilt, its face turned to the wall. I discerned the shaggy grey poll of an old man and heard his laboured breathing.

“Excuse me,” I ventured. There was no response from the recumbent figure. After a pause I touched his shoulder lightly and repeated my “Excuse me.”

At long last the prone figure stirred, the bed covering heaved, the full body ponderously turned. Two glaring red-rimmed eyes confronted me. Most lamely I began, “can you tell me something about Jack Breanain, the Gaelic poet?”

The old man seemed to gather himself. One powerful hand, brown as a bear paw stole up from under the bedclothes and moved slowly across his face. The man growled and with an effort cleared his throat. ” Isn’t it late you’ve come,” he said hoarsely, “asking a man who will be dead tomorrow?” The remark staggered me. Before I knew what I was saying my question was out. “Are you afraid of dying?” This was answered by a growl. The eyes glared at me. “I’m not,” he said, each word a mighty effort. “The Almighty God put a blanket round me coming into the world and I don’t remember being born.” After a pause, “He’ll put another blanket around me again going out and I won’t remember dying but as little.” A pause. The breathing. Then as if to himself, he muttered ” Coming or going? One is as natural as the other.” I said no more. As quietly as I could I withdrew.

I enquired later. Yes, the old philosopher had died on the morrow.”

And the great Damien Stack of Listowel is still bringing out the best in everyone of us he meets!


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