My Grandmother lived in a village on the most western tip of Donegal. She died there too.
This village is in the back-arse of the back-arse of nowhere. The sheep outnumber the people and are ready to launch a coup at any minute. It took my family seven hours to reach Donegal, and another two to make our way through the countryside to her house. Our only mode of navigation through gnarled ditches, marshy bogs, and roads as spotty as a teenagers face, was a ratty Collins road map and the occasional local. My father, a native, deciphered the indecipherable culchie speak and we were away.
The house was full of relatives in various stages of grief. My aunts cried, hiccuping with tears as they scuttled across the room as one, like some giant black beetle. My uncles stood stoic, because boys don’t cry. My brother and I had never met my grandmother, we were merely bored. We stood to the side of the room trying not to melt in the face of the roaring fire, sipping cups of Football Special. Football Special, for the uninitiated, is a drink only found in Donegal. Invented by a local madman, it is the love child of Irn Bru, Red lemonade, Coke and some kind of ancient Gaelic magic. It’s fucking delicious. Empty bottles of the stuff filled every available surface. My aunt’s husband, Pat, who had clearly never heard of the concept of recycling, or global warming, or health and fucking safety, decided the best way to dispose of the bottles would be to chuck them in the fire. The room filled with a grimy smoke after the third bottle. After the fourth it was hard to see each other. The plastic began to fill my lungs. I was pretty dizzy and slightly high on the secret ingredient of Football special and plastic fumes by the time I was pulled out of the house, so I don’t know exactly how many bottles were burned. My father’s side of the family stood in the yard, shaking smoke from their suits and their sandwiches. I think the fumes affected my uncle worst of all, at least I hope that was why he acted like he did.
My uncle John wasn’t an alcoholic, he was just fond of his drink, or he liked a pint every now and then, or some other synonym for alcoholic. John sidled across the yard rolling a cigarette with the practised ease of a sesh moth. He finished one and handed it to me without a word. Before I could even put it to my twelve year old lips it was gone, smacked away by my mother. This didn’t deter John. He brazenly announced he was going in to town to meet, “His coloured woman, and get more drink.” My uncle John wasn’t racist, he was… culturally challenged. This request was obviously denied. The hearse carrying his mother was going to be here any second. The funeral was in an hour. John didn’t care, he strode, or stumbled, towards his steed: a 1980’s Massey Ferguson tractor. My father intercepted him but was immediately floored by a punch from his inebriated brother. John clambered onto the tractor and tore away like a boy racer. The big machine rocketed across the yard, towards the road, wobbling, just as the hearse arrived. John’s whisky spider senses kicked in at the last second and he only sideswiped his mother’s corpse. He righted the tractor and continued on towards the village, the hearse’s wing mirror in tow.
We followed the now visibly shaken hearse driver to the church, a building that always looked too much like a spaceship to be trusted, in my opinion. The priest took his time to shake each and every one of our hands. I was last, his hand was like a wet sponge. The church filled up quickly, I was surprised all these people turned up for my Grandmother. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house, standing room only. Mary was clearly well loved within the community.
“Marie was clearly well loved within the community,” The priest began. Before he was finished the next word my aunt Bernadette was on stage, dragging this servant of God by the white collar and fancy robes, from behind the pulpit for a stern talking to. He arrived back to the microphone with his cheeks burning red hot. “Mary was clearly well loved within the community,” He began…again.
We heard the roar of the tractor first. John stumbling in the door second (more accurately we smelled him before we heard him, he had clearly found more whisky), and the crinkle of sweet wrappers third. Every time the priest opened his mouth, another sweet was unwrapped. The word of God foiled by Werther’s Originals. When we were asked to stand for the final prayer, my father stood. Then he walked and grabbed uncle John, dragging him out of the church, leaving a golden trail of Wethers behind him.
It was the best funeral ever. I’m sure granny would agree.