Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Séamus (Shay) Byrne - 1947-2008

My Mum's first cousin Shay Byrne died on May 14th last after a long struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. I attended his funeral at Mt Jerome Cemetary and as usual met a lot of family I hadn't seen in years. While it was a sad occasion, there was a sense of release for Shay - he was diagnosed with MS in 1992.

He was a huge Beatles fan and some of their music was played at the funeral mass. The LP "Revolver" was brought up as an Offertory gift - cool! We all left the church to the sound of "Here Comes the Sun".

I have only a few memories of Shay - the last time I saw him was in 1998 when I brought my Canadian uncle Brendan Byrne out to see him at home in Ballyboden. Despite our best efforts, he was unable to join us for a pint down the local. Previous to this I met him and Brendan (again) in Bruxelles in Dublin for a pint in the afternoon - Shay was on strike from work, hence his freedom for an afternoon pint. I'm sure this was in 1981 as Roma and I went to a party in the Byrne house in Rathfarnham that evening on one of our first dates. I fondly remember Shay and all the Byrnes singing every Beatles song they knew!

I also remember Shay from the early 1970s. There was an occasion when all the Byrne family came down to Ballingate and camped in Mum and Dad's front garden. I recall hair was very long and I thought Shay and his brothers were the coolest people on the planet. He would only have been in his early 20s at that stage and he happily chatted with us youngsters.

At his funeral, there was much mention of a book of Shay's thoughts and memories being published. Shay was a regular in Smyth's of Haddington Road as is former Senator Maurice Manning who championed Shay's book. I got it in the post this morning from Shay's brother Brendan and read it in one go almost immediately. It is very funny and contains random thoughts and memories. I especially liked "Tarzan's Three Challenges" and "Cleaning Up Misery Hill". He loved Dublin, but also managed to travel a bit - his memories of hitch-hiking in America are a great read.

At the end of his life, Shay was confined to a wheelchair being paralysed from the neck down - it was indeed a great achievement to be able to write a book. What a pity he did not live to see it in print - no doubt he would have enjoyed a pint or three in celebration!

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