Teachers throughout the north and indeed through all thirty-two counties are today mourning Frank Bunting who has succumbed to a long illness.
Frank has been involved in the Trade Union movement since the nineteen seventies; until a few weeks ago he was Northern Secretary of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation, a position he had held for nearly two decades.
Initially Frank’s appointment, in succession to the formidable and abrasive Al Mackle was met with suspicion and downright hostility from a section of the Northern Committee, but by sheer hard work, determination and ability he soon won over the most vociferous and determined of his critics.
Frank was possessed of an incisive intellect tempered with a self-effacing sense of humour and enormous charm. He had a youthful enthusiasm which belied his mature years. He was incapable of holding a grudge and worked well with everyone, including with former “opponents” and those who differed with him in tactics or vision.
It was a measure of the man that, even after being diagnosed as terminally ill he continued working in the arduous and demanding position he held as leader and representative of more than six thousand teachers.
He was in Newry in March for INTO’s Northern Conference which was held in the Canal Court Hotel. Sporting a stylish fedora he was in great spirits and showed no real symptoms of ill health.
A few weeks ago at a meeting of the Teachers Council he verbally eviscerated a Board official who sought to defend educational cuts. Frank was a tireless worker for the rights of teachers, children and workers. I could not begin to describe how supportive he was to me personally, firstly in my role as an INTO representative in St. Columban’s College Kilkeel and again on a personal level when I was victimised by a vindictive, manipulative and unscrupulous bully.
Frank was a stout defender and proponent of comprehensive education. Education he saw as a social tool, a crucial factor in the development of the individual, but more than that, as something priceless in its own right and for its own sake. He was a proud Irishman and at the same time, a committed internationalist to whom sectarianism, racism, sexism, exploitation and inequality were anathema.
He was besides an entertaining companion,, a loyal friend, a warm human being and a loving husband to Mary to whom I commend these (slightly modified and updated) lines from the incomparable “Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoighaire”, the lament for her slain husband by Eibhlin Dubh Ni Chonail.
I think Frank would have appreciated the humour (unintended by Eibhlin Dubh) in the last two lines quoted:
“Eirig suas anois
Cuir ort do chulaith eadaigh uasail glain
Cuir ort do fhedora dubh
Tarraing do lamhanai ort
Siuid in airde do eochair
Sin i do charr amuigh
Buail-se an bothair caol ud saor
mar a maoloidh romhat na toir
mar a gcaoloidh romhat an sruth
mar a n-umhloidh romat mna is fir”
(Ma ta a mbeas fein acu
Is baolach liom nach bhfuil anois!)
Put on your fresh new raiment
Put on your black hat
Above hang your keys
Outside is your car
Take the narrow road eastward
Bushes will shed their leaves at your coming
The stream will narrow before you
And men and women will bow before you
(If they have any manners
Which nowadays I somehow doubt).