There has been a sort of numbing of our senses this year with the overwhelming sense of general sadness, so much so that when real grief comes our way, we are waylaid by it. In the oh so obvious way that we say that people are dying now who never died before, it is an appreciation and a sadness that their passing represents a loss not only of their presence, but of something of our own history and future.
I write of a man in my hometown of Ballinrobe who passed away this week. Tony Finnerty was a friend and a neighbour, but my tribute to him this week is a recognition that what motivated him, what drove him on, is the same DNA that drives on all of us in a different way.
And in being who he was, he sent out a message to us to do more of what we can do, to enjoy more of what we should enjoy, and to observe life with a wry and colourful outlook.
Tony earned the moniker Flat Out because he was a relentless worker; a driver of the need to get the job done. The tools would not rest until they were being back in the van for good. And if you interrupted him mid-stream, it was ok too, because he would ask you a philosophical question or throw you a riddle on the burning matter of the week. Mainly to do with Mayo football but often on the intricacies of life.
Flat Out was just 70 when he died this week, but he cheated the Grim Reaper a few years back when he took ill during a Mayo game in Ballina. His extra lease of life was not wasted, and he took in every opportunity to fill his mind with games and races and life, enjoying the Mayo journey and taking great pride in all his family, his wife Marie, his daughter Michelle, his sons Mike and Paul, and their extended family.
There is a piece of Flat Out in all of us. A knowledge that a dose of work means that we can then honestly enjoy the play of a match or a horse race or a cup of tea. The beautiful honesty of it all, these stepping stones on the road to contentment.
I have known Tony all my life. Creagh, where he hails from is just down the road from where I was born and grew up. As a child, we enjoyed it as a vast wooded forest area surrounding the former sanitarium, but it was also home to several families who lived along the long avenue which runs from the Creagh Road to the Castlebar Road, on the northern side of Ballinrobe Racecourse.
The Finnertys were all hardworking lads, who cycled up the road to school in the town, and back down again in the evening. Later on, when Tony was a stalwart with the P&T, his van would be parked near the entrance to The Green and the Telecom tower, from where he would depart every morning for another's day's graft fixing the country's communications infrastructure.
But if you thought that Tony's work day ended when he came back from the P&T, you were mistaken, because he was the first call for odd jobs in houses up and down the area. Once he had a bite of dinner, he'd be off again, fixing a roof, painting a wall, cutting a lawn, clearing a drain, tapping loose tiles onto a roof. if there was an unexplained hole, you would find him in it.
After my mother became widowed, Tony would be called upon to take on the difficult tasks she deemed necessary for the upkeep of her home, so it would be no surprise to find Tony up a ladder close to midnight doing a list of odd jobs just hours before he'd start his daily work again.
It was this determination to help out, to earn a few bob that made him who he was.
Every town has a Flat Out, someone who does an honest bout of afterhours work for those who need it. Before he passed away, my father was the same. A veteran of the electrification process, he wired half the houses in Connemara, so if there was ever a radio to be fixed or a light to be hung, he never said no. No matter the hour.
To Tony's family, I pass on my great sympathies because they will miss him dearly, and I thank them for sharing him generously with the rest of us.
As aspiring young hacks, Liam Horan and myself spent a lot of time with Tony, and his musings on life and his original euphemisms stood us in well stead for a lifetime of written descriptions, those both complimentary and those not, the need for each of which became invaluable. It is obvious too that that they were not wasted on his son Mike (of the Mayo News ), whose commentaries and writings are poetic in their nature, painting pictures and tickling emotions in one fell swoop.
He was a man you don't meet every day, but one who left a lasting impression on a community. And on me. Rest in peace, big fella.