JACK and Tommy’s mother Delia was my father’s sister. She married Michael Joe Blaine from Crimlin and that’s where the three sons were born. The middle brother, Michael Joe, died last year from stomach cancer. Jack, who was christened John, was 76 and Tommy was 69.
All three of them went to the UK to work. Jack was the first to go, he worked as a builder’s labourer as did Tommy. Michael Joe worked for McAlpine’s.
Jack had an accident in the late ’60s, early ’70s, when a concrete staircase fell on him. Several of his workmates were killed, and they thought Jack was too, but he was found underneath and was alive. He lost some toes due to the accident, and his health never fully improved and he came home a short while after. So did Tommy and they cared for their mother.
Tommy was a childish, innocent man. Jack was quite capable. The brothers were eccentric. Both of them had mental-health difficulties though. People like Jim Brett and Dr Ursula Skeritt from the adult mental health unit were very good with them over the years. Jack and Tommy weren’t going to get any better but the last few years things were going well, they were happy and content, and they were no sort of burden on anyone.
Jack was stone deaf. He got worseas the years went on. I would often have to write something down to communicate with him. He also had a speech impediment a long number of years, and his vision wasn’t great. He could call all my sons by name though when he saw them.
It could be said of both Blaines that they knew how to say please and thank you. Even if it was just holding a door for them that you were going out of anyway. They were very mannered people, they were never any harm to anyone.
I guess I could be called their next of kin. If there was a problem, I was contacted. My father did it before me. It was a pleasure to mind them. I never realised I was as near to them as the last few days.
I’d try to get into them every day but some days it wouldn’t be possible. I’d pop in and Tommy would usually be sitting there, facing the door. He’d tell me where Jack was, he could be out or up in bed. If he was in bed I’d go up to Jack and tap him on the leg and ask him how he was. It wouldn’t matter how he was, he’d always say “I’m not too bad”. He could communicate with you but it would generally be yes/no conversations.
There was no television there. I brought a telly in there once and I was told to remove it by their mother, she said it wasn’t healthy. I brought them a toaster another time and it went rusty from never being used, and I brought in an old microwave another time but they wouldn’t use it, so that had to go too. All that was there was an electric kettle and an old radio, which wasn’t used because they couldn’t hear it. They lived very humble and simple lives.
Jack was the more active of the two. He would often go up town for a walk. He loved looking at cars. He might kiss or bless them. If Jack was in the car with me — he might be coming to my house for a cup of tea and a sandwich — when we’d pass my late mother and father’s house, he would always bless himself. He was very traditional that way.
Tommy seldom left the house. I remember getting a call that he was out walking at Sion Hill once. I went down to him and asked him where he was going. He said he was going out home to Crimlin to an apple tree where there were lovely apples. I told him that tree was long gone, but he was adamant it was still there. I coaxed him into the car and said I had to bring him back to town. I stopped at Lyons’ shop and got him a bag of apples, and he was delighted.
Their only comfort really was food. You might bring in cake and biscuits, and they’d be looking in the bag at them, smiling. Jack might enjoy a glass or two of stout. Tommy didn’t drink. Jack would be a regular attender at Mass, whereas Tommy might go once or twice a year.
[Local publican] Rocky Moran rang me at about 7.20am on Wednesday and said I better get in here. On the way in I was thinking one of them was dead and was wondering which of them it might be. I was thinking then about how neither one of them would function without the other. Rocky stopped me and said not to go in. He told me the two of them were dead, I couldn’t believe it. The law landed and I had to go.
The main thing that is upsetting me now is the thought of those two men roaring in pain and dying slowly.
It was in 2010 when a fella beat up Jack, knocked him to the ground and urinated on him. Yer man was from up the country. Gardaí asked for a statement from him but I said there was no point, he wouldn’t be capable of going to court. Jack just carried on. It didn’t knock a stir out of him.
Rocky was literally a rock to them. The orders in there on the day sheet told staff that regardless of how busy it was, if Jack Blaine came in he was to be given a cup of tea and a Snack biscuit. He could drink it there or, if he wanted to go to the house, a staff member was to bring him across the road and make sure he got into the house and closed the door. There was never, ever any charge either. Jack would drink tea by the bathload. Rocky was the main man. He minded them and kept his eyes on them, and you could see how close the bond was between them when Rocky broke down at the wreath laying ceremony.
The man from the Chinese restaurant, Andy Loan, was fairly cut up too. Jack used to go there for sausage and chips.
The main visitors to their house would be meals on wheels, medical people, their home help Helen, myself and my wife, Rocky, and his staff.
It was very hard to get them to lock the door. They would say at night time “we’re not finished yet”. I called one day in the middle of the day and the door was open and no one in the house. One of them said “I thought he locked it”. They were like two kids ...
*In conversation with Edwin McGreal. Printed with the permission of The Mayo News