Treasured memories of Dada, 60 years after his early death

John Arnold was only four years old when his father passed away.
Treasured memories of Dada, 60 years after his early death

Batt Arnold, who died 60 years ago this week.

I WALKED around the spacious lawns under the shade of magnificent ancient spreading trees as the shone down gloriously. It could have been an afternoon in mid-July, but last Tuesday was a week into September as the country basked in Mediterranean-like conditions.

It was September 7, 60 years to the day since my father had died. It was here, in St Stephen’s Hospital, Sarsfield’s Court, near Glanmire, that Dan Arnold died aged just 48.

I’d been here on just a few occasions down the years, but on Tuesday I just walked and walked around the grounds, thinking of that fateful Thursday six decades ago.

Looking back now on the 25 years since mam died in 1996, I realise I never asked her enough about that sad time in September, 1961. Then, no matter how long a person lives there are always unanswered questions.

I recall Auntie Bridie, Mam’s sister, telling me about the day before he died. Mam had gone up to visit him, up through Watergrasshill and nearly into Sallybrook, and turned right there. 

By all accounts Dada was in good form. His treatment for the scourge of TB seemed to be making some progress - they were even planning a trip to Lourdes the following year.

His room was up on the second storey of one of the hospital blocks. I suppose he was enquring about the five of us at home, five small children, and about Auntie Jo - his sister - and how Paddy Geary was getting on with the farmwork and how Granny Twomey, Mam’s mother, was doing, and her brothers and sisters too.

When she was leaving for home she brought away his laundry, which was the usual practice. As they said goodbye, I presume they had a little affectionate kiss for each other.

When she was gone he realised he had forgotten a shirt or some other item of clothing. He looked out the open window and saw Mam below, gave a little shout and threw down the shirt - it landed on her head and they both laughed.

Mam would have been in good form that Wednesday as she headed for Bartlemy and an evening of farm work and child rearing. She might have stopped in Mescall’s shop in the Hill. Maureen Mescall was great to Mam. She told me herself that on many an occasion when she’d leave the hospital and Dada mightn’t be great, she’d be crying when she stopped at Mescalls for a few messages.

Maureen would see her tears and take her into the kitchen at the back of the shop and make tea for her and cheer her up.

She had a smile on her face on that Wednesday evening as hope was in the air as she drove the Volkswagen home to Bartlemy.

Over a decade ago, in Lourdes, I met a remarkable woman who was with my father when he died on Thursday, September 7, 1961. Nurse Eily Prendergast said he was in great form that Wednesday night, doing a crossword in the Sugar Beet Grower’s magazine Biatais - the prize was a gas heater, she told me.

That night at home, Mam probably helped Battie and Nora with their lessons for national school - I think I started school also that week - the two youngest were still in the playpen.

Early on that Thursday morning, my father got a sudden, massive lung haemorrhage and died. Not a decade married, with a wife and five small children, it was a devastating and terrible tragedy. 

Though only 48 he had packed a lot into his years – farming, greyhounds, bees, engineering, craftwork - truly a man for all seasons.

My father-in-law, when speaking at our wedding, recalled hearing the awful news below at Nora Daly’s shop in Bridesbridge. I’m not sure if we had the phone or not that year – I think I heard Mam saying one time that ’twas by telegram from Rathcormac Post Office that the sad story came.

His remains were brought to Bartlemy Church that same evening. The next day the funeral took place.

Though only four, I can remember vividly that morning and the house crowded with people. In my mind’s eye, I can recall the people sitting on the stool behind the table in our tiny kitchen. In those pre-Vatican Two days, Requiem or Funeral Masses were not the norm. Dada was buried in the afternoon after prayers in the Church.

It must have been a sad and mournful procession of cars that wended its way up to the Cross, down Hollyhill, and on to the cemetery in Rathcormac. Pad Connors was thrashing for Mrs Dooley but operations were suspended until after the funeral. 

Dada was laid to rest where Arnolds have been buried since the mid-1600s.

I’ve no real memory of him, though from all I’ve heard about him I imagine I can see him working with his hands, making or repairing something. His initials are inscribed in several places with those of friends and relations like ‘G.D’ – Garrett Dooley - and ‘G.B.’ – Gus Batterberry - so nearly every day around the farm I think of him.

Often, when I’d be trying to fix some bit of machinery or a water leak, or solve an electrical problem, I’d kind of ‘ask’ him to help me as I’m clean useless at fixing anything. Though he’s dead 60 years many, many people still fondly remember him, and only on Tuesday I spoke to a cousin of his. She is 91 now but her recall of the 1940s and ’50s is remarkable.

Over the years since Dada died, I’ve had some remarkable ‘encounters’ with him, like when I found and visited the grave of his friend Paddy O Grady in Urlingford. Similarly, finding out about Molly Murphy of Geasehill in Offaly last year - she was an invalid and a kind of ‘pen pal’ of my father.

In fairness, meeting Eily Prendegast nearly 50 years after his death was really remarkable. Mam and Dad never got to go to Lourdes together, yet ‘twas in Lourdes I met Eily who told me all about his last hours.

Yeah, I cried a fair bit in Sarsfields Court on Tuesday, but I was glad I went there on that very special day. The sun was setting on September 7 when I prayed at his graveside in Rathcormac that evening.

Having no father growing up was not strange to us - we knew nothing different. We had a remarkable mother and I do really believe that the love she had for Dada lived on and kept her going when a lesser woman might have caved in under the weight of sorrow.

They hadn’t a long life together, but their love for each other still manifests itself in the generations coming after them. We still speak of them often, the mother we all knew well and the father who had so little time with his family.

God bless them and mind them, they made us all what we are today.

Who Were They?

Who were your father and his father too?

Death decreed I never knew.

‘Great with his hands’ that was Dan

‘Twasn’t Batt they called him but ‘the dear man’

Same fields they walked with glen and bogs

Sheafs and scallans, horses and dogs.

‘Til Autumn late Batt spent his time

Dan was plucked in Summer’s prime

Different men yet they walked one path

Father and grandfather, Dan and Batt

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