Pa’s Eulogy

My cousin Tom McCann has very generously offered to share the moving text that he wrote  for our grandfather’s funeral recently. He hopes that this will enable those who knew Pa but were unfortunately unable to be at the farewell ceremony in person to read his words after the event. So here it is Tom’s Eulogy to our Pa who passed away recently.

Introduction

Good afternoon all and thank you for coming along today.

My name is Tom McCann and I have been asked to say a few words on behalf of the grandchildren and great grandchildren. Now I know what you are all thinking but don’t worry – I’m the last speaker I promise!

By now you are all probably getting the idea the extended Cahir family tree can best be described as extensive. Notwithstanding the 10 healthy, and in most cases normal, children Pa and Grandma were blessed with, to truly understand who’s who in the zoo (literally) you have to descend down a rung in the tree to the 38 grandchildren who are spread chronologically across 30 odd years.

This, of course, is only half the battle as you also need to remember all of our respective partner’s names in order to work out which of the 20 great grandchildren belong to whom!

We, the Essendon Cahir’s, of course are not to be confused with the Preston Cahirs and the Greenvale Cahirs, who between them number 11 children, more than dozen grandchildren and great many more great grand children many of whom are here today.

Don’t worry if you are slightly confused by this mass of numbers – it is a common state of affairs when we all gather together. So much so that one year, at the annual family picnic, the idea was hit upon to give everyone a name tag that listed who you were and how you were related back to the Grand Poo Bah himself.  Sounds simple enough but the devil is always in the detail.

Take me as a case in point. The 1st version of my tag read – Tom McCann, eldest son of Ray and Anne, Grandson of Valda and Francis.

It was here that the plan started to fall apart. See, no one knew who Anne or Francis were…. Not to defeated by this minor setback however, the organising committee quickly took action and the tags where updated.

The 2nd version of my tag read – Tom McCann, eldest son of Ray and Anne (aka Penny), Grandson of Valda and Francis (aka Jim)

For those of you familiar with the mischievous sense of humour that is so common within large families, and particular strong within the Cahir family, you can probably guess the reaction to this level of organisation and formality being forced upon them….

So, despite the best laid plans of mice and men, and with the help of a marker pen and a healthy dose of disregard for authority, it wasn’t long before the 3rd and unofficially version of the tags were in circulation. My tag now read – Tom McCann, the eldest son of Mad and Dumb, Grandson of Stupid and Grandma

Suffice to say, the masses had spoken with their feet and the whole exercise descended into a state of utter farce – much to everyone’s great delight!! 

The point of this long winded introduction is to highlight the irony of 1 person attempting to speak on behalf of almost 90 Cahir grandchildren, partners and great grandchildren. On the basis of numbers alone, the task is impossible enough. But it is more than just the numbers alone.

Each of us have our own special, individual memories of Pa. Memories of meals consumed, jokes told, laughter shared, conversations had and topics debated. We all shared something different with Pa and we will selfishly cherish that for the rest of our lives.

And no-one recognised that fact more than Pa and Grandma. Indeed the size and diversity of the family was one of their greatest strengths and proudest achievements. In a way that only Grandparents can, the bigger the family got the more special, unique, loved and important they made us all feel.  Pa and Grandma knew what was happening in our lives, what our latest achievement were, our interests and our passions. They cherished us all for who were and celebrated what each and every one brought to the rich tapestry of life that only a big family can deliver.

One was not more special than another and but each of us was the most special. There was no need for name tags with Pa and Grandma. 

So while speaking on behalf of such a large cohort would normally be a futile task today I wanted to continue on Liz’s approach and touch upon a few of the common themes that ran so strongly through Pa’s interaction with his grandchildren and formed the basis of much of what we loved and respected about Pa.

On these, for perhaps the only time in my life, I am confident I can speak on behalf of all of the grandchildren, partners and great grandchildren and I do so with a great sense of honour and humility.

  • Themes

In trying to identify the important themes of Pa’s life over the past few days I had the opportunity to re-read my cousin’s Liam Ryan’s speech for Pa’s 90th birthday. What struck me when reading this, other than the talent Lee Lee has with words, is that so much of what he spoke of 4 years ago is as relevant today as it was then.

And the reason that I found it so relevant was that while it is very sad to say goodbye to Pa for the last time today, it is with an overriding feeling of wanting to celebration his life the way in the same way as we celebrated his life at his 90th birthday. So, with that said, I thank Liam for allowing me to butcher some of his beautiful constructed words below!

The first of theme I wanted to talk about Pa the Prankster.

As children growing up few things excited us more than to the chance to visit Pa and Grandma. And one of the main reasons for this was that didn’t matter the venue, the time, the audience or the occasion we could always count on Pa to match our excitement and share our enthusiasm. As a parent myself these days I can only shake my head and laugh at what my Uncle and Aunties would have thought of the prospect of Pa, often after a long trip, revving up a car full of young kids to the point of delirium.

The rules of engagement where fairly standard. You had to say hello to Grandma and give her a kiss and then race to find Pa. Pa would greet you with a mischievous grin, a twinkle in the eye and, as Liam so accurately recalled, offer his hand for us to shake. Slow to learn, we took that offer time and time again only to be subjected to the ritual hand crushing with a vice like grip a la Teddy Whitten. As you struggled to get away Pa would vigorously worked your arm like a water pump, testing the strength of your shoulder sockets whilst enquiring as to who we might be and what football team we barracked for. Like all good torture techniques the more you resists the worse it got.

From personal experience this ended in only 1 of 2 ways.

The 1st way was that you had to declare your undying love for the Essendon Football Club and shout, at the top of your lungs “Go the Bombers!!!” Any pleas for compassion or mercy where meet with feigned deafness. Any attempts at escape crushed with a tickling hand and further vigorous arm shaking. If you were brave enough to go to the assistance of your siblings or cousins the long arms of Pa would ensure that you too were drawn into the trap.

The 2nd way was, if things grew too boisterous, or tears where about to flow, you could rely on the almost divine like intervention from the only person who could ever really control Pa – Grandma! I can still hear Grandma to this day saying “Stop that Jim, that is enough, Jim!” It didn’t guarantee an immediate stop but it signalled that the end was nigh.

The results speak for themselves really. There are a few non-believers amongst us grandchildren but the number of Bombers fans in the family is testament to the effectiveness of this strategy. With the trials and tribulations of the EFC over recent years I only wish Pa had meet a few AFL commissioners and Fairfax journalists along the way…..

One thing Pa could never be accused of was fresh comedic material. He never grew tired of this engagement with his grandchildren and, as the next generation of Cahir’s sprung up, it brought back some great memories to watch the same jokes get rolled out and to see the same joy on the faces of both Pa and the great grandchildren as this time honoured tradition was observed.

It mattered little that, in many instances, Pa now really could not hear them, or that the handshake had been replaced by a poke of the walking stick, the tickle with a ruffling of the hair. The love and excitement was just as plan to see as all those years ago and Pa’s laugh just as warm and twinkle in his eye just as bright.

Nothing typified this experience better than Christmas Day at Treadwell Rd. It remains a favourite childhood memory of mine – Grandma and Pa, the 16-20 uncles and aunties, the 30 odd grandchildren and a collection of guests and hangers on all enmeshed in a constant moving scene of organised chaos. Nothing ever quite ran to plan on these days. Presents were forgotten, excitement and exuberance ended in blood and stitches, no one could agree on anything

And yet each Christmas day was more brilliant than the last, the outcome better than plan, the laughter louder, the joking funnier, the teasing wittier.

And right in the middle of it all was the Grand Poo Bah himself – equal parts trouble marker and solver! It was where he loved to be and more importantly it was where we loved him to be! 

Pa the Doer

The 2nd theme in Pa’s life that I wanted to touch on was of Pa the doer!

For as long as I can remember Pa always had projects on the go. These projects manifested themselves in all sorts of things big and small as Pa busied himself with the art of living and putting his talents to good use.

The early years of my life saw Pa involved in everything from the Papal visit to Australia in the mid 1980’s, Probius and RSL business right through to the installation of a water system that Grandma thought the equal of anything the Roman Empire achieved complete with different sprinkler heads, networks and timers that covered every nook and cranny of Treadwell Rd. He was also self appointed treasurer of the family holiday home and any other number of things he so declared.

As Pa grew older these projects shifted more towards events and trips. A trip to London for a celebration of Bomber command, a family wedding to attend, a visit to Sydney to spend time with family and old friends – there was always something in the works.

Each time I think we all thought to ourselves, this is surely the last time. However, there has not a farewell tour like Pa’s since John Farham’s “One Last Time” extravaganza.   

For the more people who told Pa that it couldn’t be done, the more determined he become to do it. And he maintained this attitude right to the last, telling the Ambulance Officers last Thursday as they transferred him to hospital for the last time that he needed to be right by ANZAC day as he had been asked to do a lap of the ‘G.

It is hard to know exactly where Pa’s fighting spirit came from, the will to never give up, to always look for the next opportunity, to set and strive goals to achieve.

Possibly it started early in life as a response of the death of his father, leaving behind a young wife to raise 3 boys on her own. Perhaps it was the chain of events that lead to the outbreak of World War II just as he was reaching adulthood and thrusting upon him, and his generation, a call to service for the greater good. You wouldn’t blame him if it was a response to raising 10 children with Grandma – I have 1 and that feels like a constant hostage negotiation that can’t be won! Conceivably it was as a result of the numerous health scares he has had including 2 bouts of cancer, his stroke or any other number of “running repairs” he has faced over the years.

For us Grandchlidren however, what is undeniable is that at the very least, Pa attitude was heavily shaped by the events of the night of December 23rd, 1943 and in particular the actions of his Captain and Pilot Pat Edwards. While others have spoken in more detail about the sacrifice that Pat made to best understand the lasting impact it had on Pa is to benchmark Pa’s life against that of Pat Edwards

As a result of Pat’s bravery, Pa was given the gift of 74 more years of life. 74 years in which he was able to return home to his family and friends, marry Grandma and raise a family of 10 children, 38 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren. In those years he shared many adventures, made wonderful friends, travelled to exotic places and was involved in numerous communities and societies that formed the basis of his friendship group. In short, the simple fact of the matter is that none of the Essendon Cahir’s would be here today if wasn’t for the split second courage and selfishness sacrifice of a 21 year old from country NSW.

Pa never forgot Pat Edwards nor the countless others who gave their lives in the service of their country. But it was more than not forgetting – Pa was determined to pay tribute to them by making the most of the opportunities others had given so much for. I am sure this drove him to undertake projects big and small, to never rest on his laurels, to always find a way to carry on.

It may never have been possible for Pa to repay his personal debt to Pat but I would like to think, looking around the church today, that Pat would have been proud of his fellow squad member and all he achieved in those subsequent years. And that the Edwards family, who Pa stayed in contact with throughout his life, would have taken some comfort that the ultimate sacrifice Pat made didn’t count for naught and much had been achieved to honour his memory.

Because for all the accolades that Pa received over the years these were as much Pat Edwards as they were Pa’s.

Before I go I also want to say our thoughts are with uncle Paddy today – Pa’s brother and companion for the last 92 years. It is hard to think that there are a set of brothers who have shared more over the journey. I would call them as thick as thieves except that they would have made terrible thieves – Pa wouldn’t have been unable to contain his boasting about the heist and Uncle Paddy doesn’t have a dishonest bone in his body.

Their relationship has witnessed every high and every low imaginable over 9 decades in a world that is unrecognizable from the one they were born into. It is a relationship that my brothers and sister and I strive to replicate.

So, while we have lost a grandfather we recognise and acknowledge that Uncle Paddy has lost his oldest and dearest friend. As the last remaining Cahir of his generation we are proud to have him as the patriarch of the family and all we ask is that you remember who the rightful winner is at the annual family cricket match next year.     

Conclusion

It is hard to overstate the importance of Pa in our lives growing up. As a few of my cousins have remarked on social media this week, he was a giant of our childhood and we were as in awe of him and all that he did.

However, there is always a risk with eulogies of making one’s life more special than it actually was. To embellish the records, inflate the contribution, overstate the worth. To ignore the short comings of the human being.

And to that end, to say Pa was without flaws would be false. To say there wasn’t disagreements, arguments and mistakes made along the way would be untruthful. To say all of Pa’s success was of his, and only his, making would be to deny credit where it was due. And although the family may debate whether Pa would be the first to admit to that, his faith and love would lead him to the same conclusion.

But what we can say, without any risk, is that Pa made all our lives more special than they were. That he has brought joy and happiness, taught us things that are important, shaped us into who we are today.

Perhaps the greatest compliment we can pay him is not in words but in actions. And in that his legacy will live on in all of us.

That we know that life is to be lived. That opportunities are to be grasped. That services are to be provided for the greater good of others. That there is no shame in failing but only in not trying at all.

That laughter is the best medicine, the family bonds are stronger than the ups and downs of any relationship, that love will mend all. 

Pa – we loved you dearly and we will miss greatly. Say hello to Grandma for us all, be sure to check in on us from time to time. 

Thank-you.

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