Eulogy for Martin (Taff/Taaffe/Taft) Durkan (RIP)

Paddy Waldron

Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, Swinford

12 noon Friday 16 September 2022

Martin (Taff/Taaffe/Taft) Durkan

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 attention.

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 train.

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 wedding.

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 recent pandemic.

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 this eulogy.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh anam dílis Taff. death notice and condolences
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