From the Dead Centre of Ireland
Updated: Apr 18
My quite neighbourhood Cornamagh was jokingly known as the dead centre of Athlone because of the cemetery there and little else except for a small two-pump petrol station at the top of the road and a beautiful garden centre by the Rugby club.
Far from my hometown in the Midlands, I moved to the centre of Spain following the Financial Crisis and was encouraged to move to the middle of Spain because a friend was working in Madrid and gave me the same advice his father had given him.
If you want to teach abroad, move to Madrid first. If you like it, go to Asia or the Middle East and if you don’t, take a Ryanair flight home. There are no Visa restrictions as a Eueopean to worry about or difficulties finding work.
My friend grew up on my small street but we wouldn’t be the only person from Cornamagh to spend a stint in the Spanish capital.
Another neighbour who lived in the area but had left before I was born and when he was moving to Spain, my parents put him in touch with me. I agreed to meet him at the airport and it was only at the airport that I realised, I have no idea what this guy looks like.
Quickly settled in Madrid, I was able to help him when he was robbed the very first week and to help him get a job in the same place where my friend had found work for me.
We met a few times for a drink and one time he invited me to meet his cousin who was touring Spain with her husband. She was also my neighbour from Cornamagh and we ended up talking about family.
I knew that my father had spent the night in the church when her father died and she informed me that her father had spent the night in the church when my grandmother had died too.
There weren’t many houses in the area in the past and I think most families were either from their extended family or mine, on the opposite side of the street. Half the street on my side of the road was made up of my aunts and uncles and cousins and likewise on their side.
I thought it was very strange when my father spent the night in a church with a corpse but suddenly after talking to my neighbours in a bar in La Latina in Madrid and the family tradition story we had shared about waiting with the deceased so that they weren’t alone and I wondered if we would continue this Cornamagh tradition, as morbid as that is.
It is hard to imagine spending a night in a church, hours in silence, watching over your neighbour’s loved one but what is worse is that Coronavirus could affect how we celebrate funerals in the future and I wonder what would happen if anything happened to me or my family at the moment?
There are no flights home at the moment, only recorded ceremonies and separated families and as doctors and nurses and their patients die around the world as a result of “The Common Cold,” I wonder what dignity has been robbed of family traditions and burial practices?
For me, if something went wrong, there is only isolation from family and quick cremations and I can imagine returning to the dead centre of the world with my ashes being scattered in that old cemetery in Cornamagh.
Sure, what else would you do in Cornamagh?
Stay at home but don’t be afraid to make the move to Madrid, when life returns to normal.
Who knows, you might even find a familiar face waiting to welcome you at the airport.
CORRECTION: After talking with my father, he explained that it was not all night in a church but friends and family taking it in turns to "wake" the corpse in the parlor, throughout the night.
Special thanks to Séamus MacAogáin for all his help and encouragement over the years.
IN GOOD COMPANY: Séamus MacAogáin, his son Simon and me in the James Joyce in Madrid.