Few families anywhere – much less in Newry of the 50s-60s – were as large as ours, but that of close neighbours, the Rowantrees of Monaghan Row was one such. Remarkably too, James Rowantree was a baker in McCanns, as was my dear dad Sonny.
So I was acquainted then with the boys of that family in my youth, and especially with Kieran. Today I attended his funeral service.
I was absent from Newry for a decade, but when I returned in 1975 with a wife and new young family (just two then) I found that Kieran again was a close neighbour, living then with his wife and family in O’Neill Avenue. With a number of other concerned young adults (Terry Quinn, Gregory Hollywood, Alan Wadsforth, Peter Donaghy, Malachy McCaughey, Willie Taylor, Willy Reilly, Peter Campbell to name just a few of the members) we formed the O’Neill Avenue/Loughview Park Tenants Association to lobby the statutory services on behalf of the tenants. Later we amalgamated with neighbouring areas to become the South East Community Association and widened our interests to foster community fellowship.
It was universally accepted that we were remarkably successful in this endeavour: at a time of great inter-communal strife, we were a model of happy integration.
A decade later and Kieran was my closest neighbour, across the road in Loughview Park and again we were working together for the good of the Third World now, as committee members of the local Concern group.
I note all this, not to blow my trumpet but to assure Kieran’s legacy. I think it is safe. In the Dominican today I shared a pew with our then Chairperson of Concern Jennifer Malone and most of the others named above also attended the service. As did our very own Brian Fitzpatrick: in fact, the Church was crowded as testimony to Kieran’s and the Rowantree family’s popularity.
When I returned home today I retired to a darkened room to reflect. I took up Seamus Heaney’s latest anthology and read the title poem. I was amazed to note its extraordinary relevance. (I hope to review this book later).
Seeing the bags of meal passed hand to hand
In close-up by the aid workers, and soldiers
Firing over the mob, I was braced again
With a grip on two sack corners,
Two packed wads of grain I’d worked to lugs
To give me purchase, ready for the heave –
The eye-to-eye, one-two, one-two upswing
On to the trailer, then the stoop and drag and drain
Of the next lift. Nothing surpassed
That quick unburdening, backbreak’s truest payback,
A letting go which will not come again.
Or it will, once. And for all.