Eulogy for Martin (Taff/Taaffe/Taft) Durkan (RIP)
Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, Swinford
12 noon Friday 16 September 2022
Dia dhaoibh a chairde
Martin Durkan was born on the 17th of September 1935, so would have
celebrated his 87th birthday tomorrow had he lived. He was named
after his father, who was my grandmother's brother.
In the 1930s, there were still about seven different Durkan families
living in Culmore, and for the most part they all used the same
handful of traditional male Christian names, such as John, Michael,
Patrick, Thomas and Martin. Nicknames were essential to distinguish
between the various namesakes. And so, from an early age, the Martin
to whom we are saying goodbye today was known universally as "Taff".
There are different theories as to the origin of this nickname, but
the more plausible one is that it was bestowed on him by Tom Horkan
in the local shop, who compared Martin's size and great footballing
ability to those of Des Taaffe, who was on the Meath team famously
beaten by Mayo in the 1951 All-Ireland final. Our American cousins,
including Joan Gibbons who may be watching on the webcam, claimed
that the name came from an American ambassador to Ireland of the
1950s named Taft.
Even less originality was shown in choosing female names and I
recall being in Swinford Hospital a few years ago with Taff's
sister, Taff's wife and my own first cousin. A nurse came into the
ward looking for Mary Durkan, and all three Marys jumped to
Taff's father too had an unusual nickname, always being referred to
as Sinker. The origins of that nickname are lost in the mists of
time, and the nearest to an explanation that I have ever heard is
that he was always digging and sinking in the land.
Sinker had seven siblings, including three sisters who remained in
Cuilmore, none of whom changed their surnames. Anne never married
and lived with Sinker and his family, while Mary and Bridget, who
was my own grandmother, both married men named Thomas Durkan - Tom
Máirtín and Tom th'American respectively. The next generation saw
three first cousins farming in Cuilmore, Taff, John known as Willis,
and my uncle Pat th'American, all now gone to their reward.
On the 9th of April 1922, Sinker married Agnes Finlan, a Culmore
neighbour who had returned from Philadelphia. She was one of a
family of six sisters and one brother who survived to adulthood.
Taff was the youngest of Sinker and Agnes's seven children.
The eldest child, Tommy, died on Christmas Eve 1938 while still in
his teens. Two years later, his aunt Anne died, followed two months
later by his mother Agnes, who succumbed to the dreaded TB.
After these three deaths, Taff grew up from the age of five in a
household comprising his widowed father and his five older siblings:
Mary, Michael, Rita, Annie and Aggie, of whom only Mary, now aged 98
and unable to join us today, survives him. The four older siblings
all in turn moved to London, where Annie died in 2006. In their
latter years, Mary, Michael and Rita all retired home to Swinford,
while Aggie lived with Taff and later in Áras Attracta.
Taff inherited the family farm in Culmore, being at least the fourth
generation of Durkans to farm the land. He was a keen farmer, but
also had off-farm jobs. After he finished school, he first worked
for the County Council with a horse and cart on the roads. He then
worked for the Electricity Supply Board from the latter days of
rural electrification in 1967 until his retirement in 1997. He won
top prizes at the local marts and agricultural shows for his cattle.
One of my last memories of him is meeting him driving up from the
bog with a load of turf, on a tractor which looked almost as old as
himself. In his earlier days, he had ploughed with horses, and water
for the house was still drawn from a well up to the 1970s.
Taff played darts very successfully when he was younger and there
are countless trophies in the house. He also attended weekly card
games of 25 and he liked to win!
In the late 1950s, Taff's neighbour and maternal first cousin
Padraig Stenson married Tiny Ward from Ardee. We know that Taff met
Tiny's niece Mary McDonnell, a nurse from Dundalk, in 1965, when
they were asked to stand as godparents for Padraig and Tiny's
daughter Geraldine. Love blossomed slowly, but on the weekend of the
1971 All-Ireland football final, Padraig conspired with his wife's
family to bring Taff to Dundalk, where Mary and her father were kept
waiting at the railway station, as Taff needed another pint to pluck
up the courage to talk to Mary, and they missed their intended
Mary was soon back in Culmore and Taff brought her to Castlebar to
buy an engagement ring. They were married in Dundalk on the 14th of
August of the following year, so they recently celebrated their
golden wedding anniversary.
One of my earliest memories of Mayo is the excitement surrounding
the wedding preparations, for which Taff's sisters came to Dundalk
from London via Swinford. His sister Mary told me many years later
that the first time she ever saw me was when brought up to look at
me asleep in bed in O'Connor's Hotel a few nights before the
Taff was the only one of the seven siblings to marry. A few years
after the wedding, a new house was built beside the ancestral home
in Culmore. Mary, as a qualified nurse, helped to look after Taff's
sister Aggie for many years and also nursed in Swinford Hospital,
where she had a fantastic reputation.
After my own mother died in 1978, I didn't see so much of my Mayo
cousins, spending more time with my father's relatives in Clare.
Thanks to the great efforts of my first cousin in Castlebar, another
Mary Durkan, to keep her various cousins in contact with each other,
I saw a little more of the Culmore Durkans in the years up to the
Sadly, Taff lost his mobility and had to move to St. Attracta's
Nursing Home outside Charlestown in March of 2018. In the last
couple of years, he was joined there in turn by the two Marys, his
sister and his wife. It was reassuring to know that they could have
each other's company during the COVID-19 visiting restrictions. I
must thank the staff of the nursing home, who have been very good to
them, although Taff was like a bird in a cage, desperate to recover
his strength and get out and about again.
Finally, I would also like to thank Fr Victor and all those who
participated in the liturgy today, and all of Taff's long time kind
and helpful neighbours, especially Kieran and Patricia Rowley, who
looked after all the funeral arrangements with Campbell Funeral
Directors. Their kindness over the years to Taff and the two Marys
is much appreciated. Thanks also to the Rowleys, to Padraig and
Geraldine Stenson and to my cousin Mary for their help in compiling
Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam dílis Taff.
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