One year on

The leaves on the Norway maple are yellow once more. My dry stone wall is again in partial collapse from all the footballs we kicked against it … this time on the other side of where the goal posts used to be. The weather is wet and dreary now; it was fine and warm then. There aren’t so many pheasants about this year.

Sean’s anniversary mass was held in the local church last night. The congregation was large – the local community, family, our friends and Sean’s. Our Dublin next-door neighbour, Aileen, whom we hadn’t seen in 13 years, and her daughter, Olivia. Some people had travelled a long way to be there.

At the end the choir sang ‘Come Back and See Me’, with guitar, fiddle and mandolin – a surprise to Pauline and me. They had met several times to practise it, unknown to us. It sounded great, and it was a wonderful gesture of caring. Tears were shed. Sean would have been proud, I think.

There was a large crowd of people in our house afterwards – many of the same ones that helped and supported us a year ago. We had a few drinks, and talked till 3 or so. No singing, unusually, but there will be many other nights for that. We released Chinese lanterns at the front of the house, but they soon foundered in the rain.

There are still some visitors about, and we don’t expect things to return to normal till after Sean’s actual anniversary, on Monday. It has been a strange year – heartbreaking, but with major compensations, including the love of warmth of many, many great people. We have hopes and dreams for the next year, which we will do our best to turn to reality. Sean will still be remembered and loved a year from now, and for a long time after that.

He deserves to be. He was a wonderful person.



Filed under Death, Ireland, Memories

82 responses to “One year on

  1. David Hankin

    The choir sang ‘Come back and see me’ beautifully! I thought they really made the song come alive! It was great to see so many people visit your place too, especially so many of Sean’s friends. It was a pity we had to leave when we did.

    Glad the evening went well.

    Take care


    • Hi Dave … yes, a pity you had to leave so soon. Various other people had to leave quite early too. You’ll have to come down for a night when John and Catherine come up … that would be good fun.

      We had a good day today … Pete, Andy, Alan and I have been playing our guitars and singing songs for a few hours tonight. Hoping to get up for All Blacks v. Australia in the morning …

  2. Metin YILMAZ

    Dear Brendan, i’m often thinking of you and your family, my best wishes to you and yours..One of my favorite Turkish poet descipes death as a ship which is going to unknown..

    Silent Ship

    If it is time to take anchors from time
    Aship which is going to unknown takes off from this harbour
    As if it didnt have any passenger,it travels
    That is to say that\it must have been like that, so many outgoings are glad at their place
    So many years have passed,so many years have passed
    There has been nobody returned
    Wretch,hearts are neither it is the last ship which is going in the seperated life,nor it is the last mourning
    In the world,be loved and lover wait in vain he\she doesnt know that darlings who has gone,will not come back
    That is to say that\it must have been like that, so many outgoings are glad at their place

    So many years have passed so many years have passed

    There has been nobody returned

    Yahya Kemal Beyatli…

    Yes Brendano, your beloved son is glad at his place,I believe it..
    Btw, we missed you on the blog, please come back..Best Wishes.

  3. Brendano, what a lovely thing for the choir to do. You wont ever forget that gesture. My thoughts are with you at this time and I hope the family gains in strength. Let the songs tell the story.

  4. Shermeen

    Good morning Brendan. Wishing you and your family peace. Your journey of the past year has been extraordinary in its courage. I cannot believe you wrote the words of ‘The last day of your life’ a mere week after facing such an intensely traumatic time. But while grief can turn people bereft, it can also bring out glorious creativity, channelling raw emotion into something beautiful to behold, read or listen.

    I have been away from the world of blogs for a while but I am glad I have looked in today. I did not remember the exact date of Sean’s passing.

    • Good morning Shermeen … it’s nice to hear from you, and I hope all is well with you. Yes, exactly a year. Thanks for the kind words.

      Yes, some positive things have come out of Sean’s death … Pauline and I were discussing this yesterday. For one thing, we think it has made our local community closer and more cohesive. People now know each other that wouldn’t have before. And we must remember that many people have been affected … not just us.

      Of course the positives don’t outweigh the huge negative for us, but they are still worth while. Sean had a great life and lived life to the full, and that is a big consolation too.

      One of Sean’s female friends left this message on Facebook this morning, with a photo of him:

      ‘You’ve no idea how much we’re all missing you Sean. Can’t believe its a year already. Rest in Peace buddy – you’ll never be forgotten. Love always x

      Won’t you help to sing
      These songs of freedom?

    • Greetings to Brendano and the friends on this blog. Like Shermeen, I think that your journey of the past year has been extraordinary in its courage and grace. You have shown that love can triumph over tragedy and terror. In speaking and singing of your love for your fine son, you send out a very important message to people’s hearts.

      I am thinking especially deeply of you, Sean and your family on this day, and hope that you will always be able to draw on your exceptional inner strength, for both yourself and others.

      • Thanks very much, Cymbeline, and thanks for all your comments (often brilliant and inspiring) and your support over the past year. There’s an online community as well as the ‘real world’ one, and although it’s more nebulous, it’s important too.

        We do feel that we are on a journey now … I hope it will take us to some good places.

        • You named your blog ‘The Road to God Knows Where’, before you knew that you would be embarking on this particular journey. I have often thought of that. We can all be set on a rocky road that we were not expecting to take.

          I know that the positives will never outweigh the huge negative, but I too hope that your journey will take you to some good places.

        • Thank you, Cymbeline. I now see that I wrote in an early post on this blog:

          ‘God knows where’ is ambiguous, and I like ambiguity … I don’t like things to be cut and dried, or defined too rigorously. I like the places in between. ‘God knows where’ means that nobody knows, but also means that there are higher powers to guide us: that the path is meaningful. The road is what matters, not the destination.

  5. A few more comments from Sean’s friends:

    ‎’Sean Obrien I cant believe its been a year. So much has happened and changed. Missing you today and every other day. Love you buddy.. R.I.P Xxxxx.’

    ‘One year today man. The world’s always gonna be a little darker without you to brighten it up. Rest In Peace Sean Obrien.’

    ‘Hard to believe it’s been a year already. RIP Sean Obrien, a true friend who’ll never be forgotten.’

    ‘wel bro cnt get ova its a year 2day i miss u so much lad and so dose every1 tat no”s ya! love ya 2 bits dude xx.’

  6. Cymbeline, the plant you sent just arrived. Beautiful … thank you so much.

  7. Metin YILMAZ

    Hello Brendan, his friends are seem to wonderful friends, as one of his friend says.. “A true friend who’ll never be forgotten”.


    • Many thanks, Metin.

      It’s very wet and windy here today … I know some of Sean’s friends were planning to spend time at his grave, but it’s really not a day for graveyards.

  8. it was great to see ye – sorry we stayed for such a short while – but we shall be back soon

  9. A blogger sent the following thoughts by email, and said I could post them here if I felt it was appropriate. Thank you.

    I’m not much good at talking about stuff in public.

    Everyone’s life experiences are different, of course, but I prefer to be more private with things like that.

    What I do remember about grief is that it utterly isolates you from the people who do not actually share it. They speak kind and sincere words, but at the end of the day they go back to their (otherwise happy) lives and you carry on with your grief. It can be a comfort if there is someone who actually, genuinely shares your grief.

    What I also remember about grief is those few times of distraction, most often the first few moments after wakening in the morning when you feel strangely free and happy. It only lasts for moments before the memory and the crushing burden of black grief floods back and you must carry it in utter helplessness for the rest of the day.

    • My friendly greetings to the person who wrote this. I know who he is. I address him here.

      Like you, I tend to be very private about certain things. There is no ‘right’ way or a ‘wrong’ way to deal with grief. People must do as they see fit.

      I doubt that Brendano has ever spoken in public about his moments of darkest grief. Behind his apparent openness, there is always deep, deep restraint.

    • While I’m at it, may I please recommend some reading to the chap represented in italics? I know that he has a weak spot for Amazon and what he has written elsewhere has led me to thinking about a certain subject. In its turn, that subject has led me to the following books written by a man called Kevin MacDonald, a university professor of psychology in California.

      Get out your credit card and order :

      The Culture of Critique

      Separation and its Discontents

      A People that shall Dwell Alone

  10. Brendano, I have had another tweak at “All we had” and kept the main part closer to your original. I am just going to play it through, and then will send it by e-mail tonight. – a sort of musical bouquet in memory of Sean.

    • That’s great, PapaG … many thanks. When I have an opportunity I will figure out properly what you have sent, to the best of my (modest) ability!

      • I hope it doesn’t read like a Chinese puzzle! At least I can play it, so at some time, perhaps within 2-3 years , I would hope to pass by and play this version on a keyboard for you and a few others! I will send it before mid-night (still checking it for typos)!

        • It would be great to see you at any time, PapaG. Thanks for all your efforts. 🙂

          Sean always loved to bring people together. He’s still doing it.

  11. Another typical comment on Facebook today:

    ‘I cant believe its been a year. Sean Obrien you lived your life to the fullest and you are still an inspiration to all of us. Thank you for being you. Miss you so much Sean xXx’

    • All these comments from Sean’s friends must mean a great deal to you and Pauline. Your son was loved and liked, and he is missed.

    • Brendano – I had a mate who died young. I was asked to speak at this funeral and I mentioned that the guy always mixed up ‘fiesta’ and ‘siesta’. In fact life for him was always ‘fiesta’. That guy lost his life to cancer but he was much the same as any of us, he just had an ‘engine’ that soaked up the petrol. He just ‘drove’ faster than anyone else, hence he ‘arrived’ quicker. Its good to see all these comments. I like the above comment especially.

      • This seems to be the case with many people who died too young … that they loved life and lived it to the full. I remember you mentioned this friend before.

        • The new version of ‘All we had’ just sent by e-mail!

        • Brendano. You once mentioned a friend you lost when both you and he were young. You spoke about how you almost went off the rails and went into a different place because of this. You managed to come back. You must be very grateful for the strength you found to do that.

          On all sorts of different levels, apart from the obvious one, I think that you have a deep empathy with the young people who mourn the loss of Sean. You understand and therefore help.

        • Many thanks, PapaG … safely received! Will respond in the morning.

        • Thank you, Cymbeline. I certainly do feel a lot of empathy for them, as does Pauline. I told them at the funeral that we cared about them, and we still do.

      • “Gwely, gwely, hen blant bach
        Fory, fory, fory hen blant bach”

        Nos da i chi xxxx

        • Last night I watched part of an Irish-language programme about Cardiff, the Irish people that live there and the revival of the Welsh language. One Welshman was interviewed who spoke fluent Irish (with a Welsh accent) … I hadn’t heard that before.

        • That’s interesting. I have read somewhere that there are a few words of Irish origin in Welsh, brought over by the Irish invaders. I don’t know which ones they are though. One of my daughters is going to Llangrannog for half-term. That is in South Wales. I think that there were a lot of Irish marauders around there, and some of them settled. Llangrannog was founded in a place hidden from view from the sea, so that it would not attract the Irish. I have never been there myself. There is a big rock on the beach there called Carreg Bica. Apparently it is a tooth spat out by a giant. 100% of the 15-19 age group speak Welsh there. Wales has done a good job language-wise.
          The Welsh are now used to hearing ‘foreign’ accents in Welsh. Like my mother, lots of English people speak Welsh now. The children of English parents speak Welsh without a ‘foreign’ accent of course. Recently, in a Welsh pub I heard a group of young people alternating between Welsh and English. Their English accents were real Brummy accents and their Welsh accent was the specific local Welsh accent of Snowdonia villages. As a child I was put into a Welsh language primary school every time we were on the long southern hemisphere school Christmas holidays. Even then, there was a West-Indian child and a Jewish child in that school. Both spoke perfect Welsh.
          I think that most Welsh people are delighted by such efforts from incomers, but such efforts are not seen as unusual or exceptional any more. Also, there is no ‘racial’ obsession linked to the idea of upholding and retaining the Welsh language, although people are also proud to come from families which have handed down the language, in spite of the centuries of English hostility to the Welsh language.

          Yr hên iaith am byth.

        • My other daughter is a student at the Sorbonne. She is doing a master’s degree. She is writing a paper on Kate Roberts, a Welsh writer. Do you know about her? We were speaking of the Queen of Irish music not so long ago. Kate Roberts is the Queen of modern Welsh literature.

        • On Wikipedia, it says that it was the loss of her brother in WW1 that led her to writing. It was a way of coming to terms with her loss.

        • Thanks for that, Cymbeline. ‘Carreg’ is from the Irish for ‘rock’, as you may know. Many placenames in Ireland have ‘Carrick’ in them. The ‘grannog’ in Llangrannog looks quite Irish too.

          I didn’t know about Kate Roberts.

        • Sorry. ‘Muskerry Queen of Song’ not ‘Queen of Irish Music’. Elizabeth Cronin.

  12. xueta

    “The old tongue forever” and I did not google it. There were major Irish incursions into Deubarth c450AD. It is in the Mabinogion.

  13. xueta

    Isn’t grannog Hedgehog in Gaelic?

    • It could well be – I have forgotten.

      • Hello Xueta and Brendano. After googling, I see that ‘hedgehog’ is ‘grainneog’ in Irish. There should be an accent on the ‘a’.
        I also see that there was a Melesian (had to look that word up too) princess called Grainne Og. I see that ‘Grainne’ means ‘Grace’. There is a motte called Moategranoge, named after her. Apparently she officiated from there.

        Is there any connection between the Irish word for ‘hedgehog’ and her?

        I see that the hedgehog was introduced into Ireland in the 13th century, probably by the Normans. Could the hedgehog have been given the name of an earlier princess?

        The ‘grannog’ in Llangrannog is a reference to St Cranog. Llangranog means the church of Cranog.

        The Welsh word for ‘hedgehog’ is ‘draenog’.

        • Thanks, Cymbeline … interesting. Last night I watched an episode of the BBC Coast series, which dealt with part of the west coast of Ireland. The presenters explored the castle of Grace O’Malley (Gráinne Mhaol) … a sixteenth-century pirate queen.

          ‘Og’ in a person’s name means ‘young’ or ‘junior’. The word for ‘ugly’ is granna, and I think this is related to the hedgehog’s name … a coincidence that it’s similar to the princess’. The Irish and Welsh words for hedgehog are quite similar.

        • When I was looking up the name ‘Grainne’ (accent on ‘a’), I came across an example sentence in Irish, which was translated as ‘Grainne cut off her hair to embarrass her father’ . Looking at the Wikipedia entry you have given here, I see that this sentence was in fact a reference to Grainne Mhaol.

          What a fascinating woman! Thank you for the link. Most interesting. I had never heard of her before. I see that she spoke Latin with Queen Elizabeth I and I liked the anecdote about her throwing the handkerchief into the fire. True style. I was interested to see that she spoke English, Spanish, French and Scottish Gaelic too.

          Re the Irish word for ‘hedgehog’. Why would ‘granna’ morph into ‘grainne’ (accent on ‘a’) ? When words morph, they usually become simpler forms phonologically. The accent on the ‘a’ is retained and written.

        • She is certainly a fascinating character. As for the hedgehog, I’m afraid I don’t know and I may be wrong. See:

          The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

        • Definitely an Eric Cantona-esque utterance there.

        • Eric might have worked a sardine in there somewhere. I like him … he’s one of those very French characters, like Gérard Depardieu.

          I hope France will win the RWC. Much excitement about it over there?

      • OK. A literary reference. I am unfamiliar with this essay. Will read it. Fank you for the heducation.

        Yes, I like Cantona too. And old Gérard. Cantona is a film actor too now.

        I have not detected great excitement about the coming match. The day before the Wales/France match, my son’s rugby trainer rang the house to ask if my son would be going to rugby training on the Saturday afternoon. He knows that I am Welsh and added archly that he hoped that my son would be supporting France. I replied equally archly that for that particular game, the family would be happy whoever won. This was a white lie as my children always support Wales in rugby. My husband does too.

        Whilst snaffling buttery croissants, four of us watched the game in the morning, from our four poster bed, and of course Wales lost. Son went to his rugby training that afternoon. I asked him what the general consensus was. He said that his trainer thought that Wales should have won. Others said the same. There was a feeling that France won without honour.

        That particular game taught me a new expression in French. The way that the Welsh captain got hold of the French player is called a ‘cathédrale’.

        • I got up to watch it despite the late night on Friday. I was neutral (probably neutral on the side of France, as I think they deserve to win a World Cup after their exploits over the years). Wales were perhaps unlucky, but didn’t take their chances.

          There has been much dark muttering on blogs over the fact that Alain Rolland has a French father, but he made the right decision on Warburton, I thought. Anyway, it’s unfair that when France play, the referee usually can speak only English.

        • I don’t think that a man with a French father and name could have been neutral in that game. And his Irish side probably disliked the fact that Wales beat Ireland before.

          I have never heard the French complain about non-francophone referees.

          The tackle did look dangerous, I agree.

        • I think a professional referee can rise above such things. He was quite lenient on Wales in the scrums.

        • Rise above, like the spires of a cathedral.

  14. P.S. I live but a few feet away from where the first attempts to can sardines happened. Nicolas Appert.

    • Mustn’t forget Joseph Colin. He was the man who used the ‘appertisation’ technique for sardines.

      ‘Colin’ means ‘hake’ in French. Joseph Hake, canner of sardines.

      I once knew a Frenchman called Colin Saint Pierre. Saint Pierre is a fish too. The John Dory.

      “Hake John Dory, pleased to meet you”.

      The season is over now, but when they are available, I buy fresh sardines just in front of where Joseph Colin made his first experiments. These sardines are from a nearby port called St-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. St-Giles-of-the-Cross-of-Life. Behind the vendor, one sees the Eglise de la Sainte Croix. Lots of crusades set out from the square just in front. The sardines are excellent. They always have shiny eyes. Fresh from the sea. I am fond of tinned sardines too. The best come from a canning factory in Quiberon called Belle Iloise. These sardines ‘keep’ like a good wine. One should eat them long after the sell-by date, turning them over in the cupboard from time to time.

      Joseph Colin’s house is no longer there. There is a big department store there now. It has recently been done up, and the historical plaque to Joseph Colin and his sardines disappeared overnight and has not been put back. I am going to write a letter of complaint to the manager of the department store and to the mayor.

      • Good for you, Cymbeline. When on holidays in Portugal I used to eat freshly grilled sardines on the beach. On our Spanish holidays the hake seemed to be the default fish, i.e. if the menu just said ‘fish’ it was hake.

        Interesting information on canning, sardines and crusades. I couldn’t have predicted that the post would take this diversion … the wonder of blogging.

        • You are right about the ubiquitous aspect of hake in Spain. Hard for those who hate it or can’t hack it. You may have noticed that it is often served baked in breadcrumbs and olive oil in an earthernware dish, with its tail in its mouth, like a mad dog. I like it and do not mind the bones. I like to feel that I am eating a fish and not a pre-digested fish finger. Simple, good, cheap food with the pedigree of taste and tradition. You find hake in the middle of Spain, far from the beaches.

          Merluza (hake) is one of the first words I learnt in Spanish. This is because the Madrid family in my school text book went on holiday to San Sebastian quite early on in the book, and were in a restaurant ordering fish. (Actually, the proper word for San Sebastian is Donostia, but I learnt that later when talking to non-textbook Basques.) I learnt all sorts of fish and seafood words in that chapter, mainly because Mr Bradley tested us all the time and was fond of fish himself. I was thus always a great help whenever my own family went on holiday to Spain. The kid translator translating Spanish menus into Welsh and English. Later, I was the wife translator translating the Spanish into French.

          The best sardines I have ever eaten were in Portugal. We were surrounded by cranes and other machinery. A working, heavily industrial port, not a romantic beach. It was a restaurant for the workers. The fresh sardines had been left for a while in piles of sea salt, in order to suck out excess moisture. We are talking about getting to the essence of the sardine. After that, they were baked in an open fire, and served with boiled potatoes and tart green tomatoes. Vinho verde to drink.

          My father’s Middle-Eastern approach to sardines comes a close second. The sardines are gutted and de-headed, and their tails are trimmed. They are wrapped in vine leaves and cooked over coals in a very savant way, combining steaming with barbecuing.

        • This sort of digression about food, people and language is to do with my deep love of this world. I cannot speak of only Sean O’Brien all the time. If I did, it would make a mockery of my sincere words elsewhere.

          Parch a hwyl,

        • Yes. The digressions on food etc. are interesting. I wouldn’t mind eating sardines in Portugal or France at this moment instead of peanuts in Ireland.

          I’m happy to talk about anything and everything on my blog and elsewhere, even though the blog posts almost all relate to Sean in some way. That’s just my way of saying ‘it’s not over’, and of trying to do justice to him, even though I can’t.

        • Of course it’s not over. It will never be over. When I seemingly digress on your blog, it is never about forgetting Sean. It is always to do with a sense of delight in life and variety, something that you have managed to put across very well about Sean’s heart and soul. If I just nodded and plodded, I would not be a good friend to you, and I would not be trying to understand the living way of Sean’s life.

          Parch translates as respect in English. Hwyl translates as wit or fun. I think that the two go together very well.

          Peanuts in Ireland. Dry-roast or those greasy ones? I once grew my own peanuts on an island in the South Pacific, but Donald Sweeney deliberately rode over my peanut plants on his bike.

        • Para 1 – agreed.

          Para 2 – agreed.

          Para 3 – those greasy ones. The dry-roast ones have a nasty coating of monosodium glutamate and the like, though I have sometimes eaten those recently too, to use them up. We bought some in for guests. We also have lots of alcohol in stock, but I don’t partake of that while working, luckily.

          Donald Sweeney the peanut-plant destroyer sounds Irish. When I was a child, old Mr Sweeney moved into the house across the road after Jack Meagher, the old-IRA executioner I have written about, died.

        • My Donald Sweeney was aged ten, a bit older than me at the time. Yes, an Irish name of course. He was the son of the Australian district commissioner. Papua New Guinea was an Australian Trust territory at the time. He hassled me for quite a while, but I managed to smash him in one memorable fight. He was fat. I wasn’t. I was very good at being stronger than boys. I also remember being disgusted about how he was unashamed of farting.

          Some years later, after leaving that small island, we met his mother in a bookshop in Rabaul. Apparently he was suffering terribly in an Australian boarding school. She said that Donald was sensitive and that he was homesick and bullied. Bullies are often bullied in their turn.

        • You do great justice to your son in everything you say, do and sing.

          Never forget that.

  15. xueta

    There is no connection between Milesian princesses and hedgehogs.

    • Well, look at it like this, Xueta; if you were a non-English speaker and learnt that say what you knew as ‘erizo’ was ‘hedgehog’ in English whilst learning at the same time that there was once a famous English prince called Hedge Hog, you might see some connection.

      • And we all know that English (ie German) royalty has hogged a lot of hedges in its time. They’re still at it.

      • It is Yoshok in Russian. When I acted in The Government Inspector a Russian guy there never swore, just said Little Hedgehogs under his breathe. Sasha kept shouting “Jimmy learn your f**king lines!” in English. Me? I just antagonised the voice and dialogue coach (female).

  16. Last night I mentioned a friend about the “stiff upper lip”. To be proud of that… What nonsense I said.

    I thought of this when I watched our macho PM crying at his mothers funeral last week.

    I admire the way you express your feelings, Brendan. Not showing off, not putting in a show form but not afraid of sharing them.

    So it’s been one year….
    My best wishes for you and your family

    RIP Sean.

    • Hello Levent … nice to see you; I hope you’re well. Thanks for this.

      I do like to express my feelings, which have been very strong for the past year. On my own blog, I know that nobody has to see what I say if they don’t want to, so I suppose I’m not boring anybody.

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