Watch: A time to grieve - Skibbereen remembers 250 people who died during pandemic

Some of those who died and were publicly remembered on Thursday night lived to more than 100. Others were just a few days old
Watch: A time to grieve - Skibbereen remembers 250 people who died during pandemic

The candlelit procession during Skibbereen Arts Festival's memorial event, A Candle in the Wind, to commemorate all those who passed away locally during the pandemic and were unable to receive a proper traditional funeral. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Hundreds of candles were carried through Skibbereen town in memory of 250 people who have died in the area but were denied a public funeral due to Covid-19.

Those 250 names were read aloud after hundreds of people marched solemnly through the West Cork town trying to protect their candles from the torrential rain that suddenly plummeted down on the procession, quickly washing away any tears.

Some of those who died, and were publicly remembered, lived to more than 100. Others were just a few days old.

Grace, Ian and Darragh Fitzgerald at Skibbereen Arts Festival's memorial event, A Candle in the Wind, to commemorate all those who passed away locally during the pandemic and were unable to receive a proper traditional funeral. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Grace, Ian and Darragh Fitzgerald at Skibbereen Arts Festival's memorial event, A Candle in the Wind, to commemorate all those who passed away locally during the pandemic and were unable to receive a proper traditional funeral. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Susan Boland’s husband Micheal died of dementia on March 25, 2020, when Covid public health measures were very restrictive.

Mr Boland worked as a GP in Skibbereen before moving to work internationally and was well-known in the community.

But his funeral resembled a scene from a Fellini film, Ms Boland said, with just 10 people standing at his burial.

“I think tonight will make a huge difference. I think it will be cathartic for a lot of people. I’m sure it’s going to be quite emotional. It will be the first time we have been able to do something like this," she said.

It’s very hard to grieve when you can’t go anywhere to talk to anyone. People were told to just stay at home.

“Michael died on March 25 last year when everything had just closed down. We all had to stay apart. And we didn’t have any way of seeing people.

“It was difficult. But it was also quite unique in a way. We just had the seven of us in the church, we brought our own music and it was lovely in a way but it was very sad.

“We brought him home just for one night. He died on Wednesday evening at 9.30pm and he was buried at 11am on Friday. And we drove home and my children went back to their houses and that was it.

“So something like this is really important. It's the first time we’ve had any public grieving for people.” 

The idea began when David Puttnam, the film producer and environmentalist, who lives locally, mentioned that something should be done to commemorate all those who died since the pandemic and did not have a proper funeral.

“He planted the idea in our heads and we put it together,” Declan McCarthy, director of Skibbereen Arts Festival said.

“The end of October is always a time to think about the departed, we thought all restrictions would be lifted by now and most of them are, so we put out a call to anyone who wanted to have their loved one commemorated and we got a great response.

“We have about 250 names of people who passed away since March 2020, all who lived within a 10-mile radius of Skibbereen. They weren’t necessarily people who died from Covid, but people who couldn’t have the traditional wake and funeral that’s such a big part of our tradition and ceremony in Ireland.

“Most people have said ‘thank you so much for doing this. It means so much to my mum, or dad or brother.’ 

“One lady said that when her mother passed away she had no funeral, it was straight from where she passed away to her burial. Other people had 10 people at the funeral.

Normally coming together with family and friends at a funeral helps us to process the grief and to move forward through it. But that's been missing throughout this pandemic.

"We all know someone who has passed away in the last 18 months. This is just to come together as a community to pay our respects to those who have passed but also to support families who did not have the chance to give their loved ones a proper send-off." 

Special procession candles were brought from Rome for the night. The rain was so heavy it extinguished them at times but people huddled under doorways and umbrellas to help each other light them again.

Eimear Collins and her son Ellis Wilson at Skibbereen Arts Festival's memorial event, A Candle in the Wind, to commemorate all those who passed away locally during the pandemic and were unable to receive a proper traditional funeral.
Eimear Collins and her son Ellis Wilson at Skibbereen Arts Festival's memorial event, A Candle in the Wind, to commemorate all those who passed away locally during the pandemic and were unable to receive a proper traditional funeral.

Mr McCarthy and his team, with funding from Cork County Council, also arranged for musicians to play after the procession and ceremony where the names of the departed were read.

Ryan Morgan, a Welsh Tenor based in Cork, Joe O’Leary formerly with the band Fred and Camilla Griehsel who has sung with Interference and is based in Schull, were all on-site to play.

Piano and string instrumentalists and local choirs Island Vibe and the Skibbereen Community Choir were also there.

Michael O’Regan was one of the 250 people remembered at the vigil. He passed away, aged 85 after a battle with cancer on March 31, 2020. A Skype call was the closest his family could get to him during his final hours in hospital.

“My dad was a party animal,” his daughter Breda Goss, said, representing her father at the vigil.

“And he was very well known. People lined the streets outside Cork city all through Carrignavar where he was from at his funeral,” another daughter, Sheila O’Carroll said.

“This tonight is a way of celebrating his life and everyone else who we’ve lost. We had to keep apart back then but this is the community coming together again.”

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