A lone bag-piper who has played at several Covid-19 related and non related deaths is both “honoured and heartbroken” to and for the bereaved families.
Christy O’Brien, who lives in Sheriff Street, Dublin, and has been playing the bag-pipes for 43 years, has performed at thousands of funerals over the decades and all for free.
Having served two tours in the Lebanon with the Defence Forces he has seen what life is all about but the recent funerals of those who have passed away from the deadly virus, have “really torn his heart apart.” The 64-year-old said he has had to play at the funerals of those aged 15 to 80.
“I’ve played at thousands of funerals over the years, but over the past four weeks, in particular due to the restrictions around them, they are a lot different,” explained Mr O’Brien.
“It’s really sad to see that so many people can’t attend funerals, it’s very hard on the families who have lost loved ones. I performed at the funeral of a 15-year-old girl only a couple of weeks ago and I cried so much while trying to play.
“People lined the streets from her home to the Church and from there to the nearby crematorium. It was so upsetting and heartbreaking they couldn’t attend and surround the bereaved with love and hugs.”
Two of the main differences he has seen in funerals during the crisis are, cemetery gates being closed after the cortege has entered and not being able to play at the grave-side until every one of the allowed 10 mourners leave.
“In normal circumstances I wait for the mourners to arrive at the graveside but now that has all changed. I played at two recent funerals in Shanganagh cemetery in Shankill and it was horrendous and so eerie seeing the entrance gates being firmly closed behind the mourners as they went in.”
Mr O’Brien, who also performs with the Irish United Nations Veterans Association Pipe Band, said he is not worried for his own health while performing during the crisis and at Covid-19 deaths.
“I perform out of respect for people and I do it for free because I want to honour them. My heart goes out to everyone, it’s not only a job to me, I want to be there for them. I’m not afraid of the virus and I want to keep playing for bereaved families.
“I liaise with Funeral Directors and they tell me what to do and what not to do. Those who have died are placed in double body bags, sprayed as is the coffin, it’s sealed and sprayed again while all along maintaining the dignity and respect of the person who has passed away, so I have no fears.”
The popular player says he has a, “list as long as his arm from people who are alive and want me to play at their funeral. I’ll be performing at the funeral of a man in the coming days who asked me many years ago to be there so I am overwhelmed to be able to do that.
“Over the years I’ve become good friends with Aslan singer Christy Dignam as we perform at a cancer charity event every September and I’m so sad to hear his beloved father Christopher has died.”
The retired solider added: “I’ve no intention of ever stopping playing as I’m humbled by everyone who has asked me to be present to be at a funeral”.