A Galway village has rallied to avoid a lonely, unmarked burial for one of their forgotten emigrants.
Sean Parker left the village for England in the 1950s and, after a life on the margins, he spent his last few years in a care home in Kent.
The 79-year-old died on July 22 with no known family or friends.
A public appeal by Medway Council, first in a local newspaper and then over the airwaves on RTE, led to him being traced to a family, school and graveyard near the Galway-Roscommon border.
Months later, Mr Parker has been laid to rest beside his mother Annie who died in 1945 following a funeral mass in Glinsk parish church.
Marty Ward, a retired principal, led efforts to trace Mr Parker’s birth, baptism and school records on the back of the council appeal.
“We just wanted one thing, that Sean had the dignity of a proper burial in Glinsk,” he said.
Mourners heard how Mr Parker emigrated only to end up living a life of hardship on the margins of society in London.
Distant memories of his childhood were also tinged with sadness, including how Mr Parker cried as he left his birthplace and his terrier dog Terry behind with neighbours on the day he left.
He emigrated to England in the 1950s after turning 18.
He spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home in Medway, Kent, England, where staff and residents enjoyed his company.
He told carers he originally moved to London from Galway.
With no known next of kin on the day of his death the council in London would have been responsible for burying him in an unmarked grave.
Paul Edwards, Medway Council’s bereavement and registration services manager, took the decision to try and trace relatives with an old-fashioned ad in a local newspaper in Ireland which was subsequently publicised by the Liveline show on RTE Radio.
“We are pleased Mr Parker has been returned home and will be given the funeral he deserves,” Mr Edwards said.
“This all started with a small advert in a local newspaper and we have been astounded with the response from the Irish media and in particular the residents of Galway who have helped to piece Sean’s life story together and ensure he is laid to rest in an appropriate setting.”
Mr Edwards thanked everyone involved in the successful search and repatriation and said he regretted not being able to attend the funeral.
While the story of Mr Parker’s death and repatriation was poignant, the story of his life and death was not unique, outreach workers said.
Sally Mulready, director of the Irish Elderly Advice Network in London, said instances of emigrants dying alone with no relatives or friends was common, but not happening as often as in the past.
“I want the story of Sean Parker to be positive,” she said.
“It’s important that out of Sean Parker’s death and the sadness that comes with it comes positivity.
“That is going out and organising in all parts of the country and London and meeting people and empowering them to help themselves.”
Ms Mulready said outreach work by her team after the London Olympics discovered more than 100 Irish emigrants around Forestgate in the East End who previously had no connections with the Irish ex-pat community.