I walked very carefully on to this altar. It has been a long time since I’ve been up here. One of the last times I was here was as an altar-boy. I wasn’t the greatest mass server. I was prone to accident. Dropping offertory baskets, opening and closing altar gates at the wrong time, bells ringing where they hadn’t before and one memorable moment when I was sent by Canon Clarke to turn off a light on the altar during mass. This resulted in the first disco transubstantiation. Part of the problem too was my lack of training. When it came time for altar-boy training, there was a clash with Irish music lessons. We had a wonderful accordion playing curate, Father Eddie Lohan, who told my parents that I could catch up with the altar-boy duties but music was too important to miss. Thus, my music career began and I was let loose on the altar of the Church of St Joseph in Reddish. My poor parents must have cringed every time I donned the cassock and cotter. Whatever occurred and despite many a fumble I was welcomed with a “well done son” from mum and dad.
Dad was born in 1935. He had three birthdays, one more birthday than the Queen, but when he finally got his birth certificate it indicated it was probably his birthday on April 28th. Happy birthday for last week dad.
He came from Roughan, just outside the small village of Carnacon in County Mayo, Ireland. He was one of two brothers born to Ann and Michael Walsh.
He first came to England seeking adventure in 1956. He left his job with the Forestry Commission and with a mate he cycled to Claremorris, took the train to Dublin and then the boat train to Dagenham. They arrived early in the morning, with the name of the road on which the sister of his friend lived, but had no number. The lads were surprised to find a road with hundreds of houses on. After much knocking on doors they found their destination and dad set to work in a car factory in Dagenham.
You will all know how much dad loved the outdoors and factory life was really not for him. He headed back to Carnacon and the following year decided to go to Manchester, where many of his peers had gone in search of work.
With just the suit on his back, no bag, and a roll of money in his pocket he set off for the address: Aunties Bar in the centre of Manchester. Aunties was the unofficial Irish Embassy in Manchester and within minutes of arriving he had met friends, Kerrigans and Lally’s, from home, had a bed to sleep in and ‘the start’, a job working on building roads. He spent the rest of his working life laying cables. Every time I pass the motorway that cuts through Stockport, I think of dad in his Vanni van and the hard work he did to make our life so comfortable.
Shortly after arriving in Manchester he met mum at the Sharrock’s Dance Hall and on December 1st, 1962 they were married at St. Kentigern’s Church in Fallowfield. His beloved Mary arrived in 1964 and I came into the world in 1967. Mum was the love of his life. Like others, they had their ups and downs, but dad was hugely loyal to her and cared for her like no other when she was ill. Mum has always been the live-wire of the two and you could see the love and pride in dad’s face when my mum was creating havoc and having the ‘craic’ at an Irish do. They balanced each other. Mum loved dad’s gentleness, that he was a very good looking man and always dressed with great style. He was ‘respectable’ as mum might say. Just before she got married, her brother, my Uncle Jack, said to her: “You’ll be alright with Welsh”, and he was right.
Dad loved Manchester. He had no real longing to go back to Ireland. Dad was a man of few words and demonstrated his affection by doing, rather than saying. When my Uncle Mick died it made me more conscious of dad’s mortality and I wanted to know how he felt about life. He said more in one conversation, in that moment, than he ever did for the rest of our time together. He told me that he was proud of where he was from and who he was. As you know his Mayo accent never changed and he always encouraged us to get involved in Irish cultural activities. He told me that Manchester gave him everything he needed, a wife and a good living and two children he loved. He wanted for nothing here and didn’t see the use in looking back.
He was a wonderful father and husband. He would do anything for us and take us where we wanted and as we started going out late at night he would happily come and get us if we were stuck. Nothing we did seemed to faze him and he was always there to support us through the challenges of life. My future brother in law David arrived at our house in his brown Cortina, furry dice swaying to the sound of Shakatak blasting out of his stereo and a magnificent blonde curly perm. Dad smiled and welcomed him, drank him under the table and started to show him a trick or two about life.
At the same time, I was working out my future path. Dad I want to be an actor (shows no surprise). I want to be a priest (puzzled look). No dad an engineer it is to be (laughing to himself). Dad, there’s something I should tell you… I’m going to be a hairdresser (a deep sigh). Every idea was backed up with solid parental unconditional love and support.
A few years ago, my good friend Emmanuel decided not to get married two weeks before his wedding. Emmanuel, the wedding champagne and fois gras moved into my folks and he was given shelter till he was ready to move on. I’d ring home from Donegal and mum, dad and my Parisian pal would be enjoying the spoils of the wedding that never was. The song we sang earlier in the service included the words, “..and the creed and the colour and the name won’t matter”. It was very appropriate for my parent’s house. No matter what your creed, colour or indeed sexuality was, you would be welcomed. They really walked the walk of their faith.
Family life was everything to him. He welcomed my brother in law David and my wife Sarah into the family and he was a quiet and reassuring presence as his grandchildren, Amy and Laura, grew up and later for his great grandson Lucas, his little helper. Amy and Laura told me he was always there for them willing to give advice and was always honest. He was their fashion police when it came to style and would always compliment them on their various looks. David appreciated dad’s advice on how on to handle marital relationships ‘Shh Say nothing!’ and his humour. At Christmas David broke a glass and dad whispered to Laura, ‘he’s having a smashing time’. My children, Celeste and Osgur, arrived in the latter end of his life. They loved Woof too. If you ask them later they might do their Woof impression for you.
You might wonder where the name ‘Woof’ came from. Although dad was a gentle soul he didn’t hold back from putting us right if he felt we needed it. When he told us off we would say ‘woo woo woof woof’, so Amy called him Woof and it stuck. He was Pat or Paddy to his neighbours and work mates and Pa in his home village.
He was Uncle Pat to our cousins. He loved his nieces and nephews and their children as his own and was hugely proud of all their achievements. One of my cousins said to me that they always felt safe when Uncle Pat was around. I thank them for travelling from Ireland and the U.S.A. to be here today.
Some might have seen dad’s gentleness as a weakness. But for me it was a strength and he showed us that there were different ways to be a man. He was honest, a great judge of character, he was a good man manager and always treated the lads who worked for him with respect. His neighbours loved him and the response from the local community has been not only heart- warming but I think testament to how much he was loved. As a family we have always been able to hold our heads up high and be proud to say we are Paddy Walsh’s family.
Dad was selfless but there were certain other things he did love. My sister Mary reminded me the other day of how dad would be filled with joy in the early morning, waiting for daylight to break so he could be out in the garden. Mary said to me: “As long as he could feel the fresh air on his face and the smell of freshly cut grass, his day was complete”. He would spend hours in the front garden especially, more often talking to passers-by.
One of the legacies he leaves for us is to take time to speak to people even if you don’t know them. Some of the last people who spoke to him on the morning he died had never met him before but his warm friendly personality had made such an impression on them that they took time to get in touch with us to let us know. We thank them for that as it gives us great reassurance that he was happy in his last conversations.
He also loved walking and the last thing we know he did was to go for a brisk walk down in Reddish Vale Country Park. Dad was very health conscious and liked to look good. He used to say to me: “I don’t want to be like those old fellas with their bellies hanging out”. His idea of a good blow out was a glass of wine and an Aldi curry with mum in the house. They used to pretend that they were at a restaurant.
We are sad that he has gone but he lived a full life and died in a place that he loved, amongst the nature of Reddish Vale Country Park.
We would like to thank everyone who has provided us so much support in these difficult few weeks; Aunty Julia, family, friends, parishioners of St Josephs, Fr. Phillip and Fr. Moss, neighbours and the police, fire and ambulance services who brought his remains back to us, the musicians who provided such beautiful balm for our grief, Ange Durcan, Ríoghnach Connolly, Ellis Davies, Fi Brown and Paul Daly.
As they would say in his mother tongue:
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam
May he rest in peace.
Michael Walsh. 4th May 2017.