When attending a funeral, Tommy McCarthy had the beautiful custom of placing on the coffin a single-stemmed flower, usually a rose.
On Friday, November 4, his own funeral took place, and, aptly, flowers were on his coffin. He had died two days previously at St James’s Hospital in Dublin. In his early 70s, he had been unwell for some months.
At the requiem mass, Fr Eddie Lalor CC described Tommy McCarthy as “loveable.” He added: “Portlaoise parish was blessed to have had him.”
SS Peter and Paul’s Church was almost full for the mass and seven priests were on the altar, including Mgr John Byrne PP. Also there was Fr George Augustine, a former curate in Portlaoise, who travelled specially from Kilcock, Co Kildare, to say a final farewell to his friend Tommy.
And a friend to many was Tommy, with his winning smile, infectious chuckle and greetings to people of all age groups. He was a familiar and popular figure on his well-laden bicycle with its racing handlebars in reverse position.
Earlier this year, for the first time ever, he took up residence in a house. Situated on the New Road, or Well Road, just up the street from Humes’ pub, it was a source of pride to him and he insisted on displaying it to numerous visitors. Alas, he was not to know that his sojourn there would be so short.
In his earlier years, Tommy had experienced hardship living by the roadside. In 1985, he moved to Egans’ sandpit on the New Road. In 1991, he relocated to a caravan at the rear of the Egan family home, where he remained until he was allocated a house.
A member of the Egan family, on being complimented for being so good to Tommy, replied: “It was the other way round. He was good to us.”
Indeed, Tommy was good to many New Road residents, particularly to the elderly, and he was kind to animals. Cats were his favourites.
A daily mass-goer, he was never one to remain in a pew. He would walk around the church, spotting friends and acquaintances, shaking hands, and, sometimes, dispensing advice.
Tommy’s sense of religion was innate and sincere. The story is told that on one occasion he approached a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, put his arms around it, and exclaimed: “Hello, Mammy!” Truly a prayer from the heart.
The shrine in front of SS Peter and Paul’s Church was important to him and when the rosary was said there he would distribute lighted candles to those present. The date of his burial, November 4, was the first Friday of the month and, poignantly, the rosary was recited at the shrine that evening. The sadness was palpable at Tommy’s absence.
On a brighter note, he was a great fan of Elvis Presley and would do his own inimitable impression of the legendary rock star, and up to recent years he performed as a Wren Boy on St Stephen’s Day.
Tommy fought his last illness bravely. As someone remarked: “If he doesn’t get to heaven there’s little hope for the rest of us.”
He was laid to rest in SS Peter and Paul’s Cemetery. Mourning him are his sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, relatives and many friends.
By Seamus Dunne