[This is the homily I preached at the funeral Mass for my aunt in All Saints Church, Drimoleague, on March 30, 2015]

Something very significant happens when the last person on a branch of one’s family tree dies. The silent but unstoppable ticking of time is removing Aunt Mary from our sight these days. Her visible frailty is morphing into immortality. There she joins her sister Lena — my mother, and her brother Jerome — my uncle and Godfather, and a long line of the O’Driscoll clan.

photo of Mary O'Driscoll
This photo of Aunty Mary was taken at her home in Derryclough in November 2011.

Her almost 91-year-long life on this earth was entirely spent in the townland of Derryclough, Drinagh, where she was born in 1924. She told me last week that she was only in hospital once before — when she had her tonsils removed in 1931 at Skibbereen Hospital — she was seven! A neighbour remarked a few days ago that ‘twas no wonder she was never in a hurry to go back to hospital!

As we pray a farewell to Mary, our foremost thoughts are to thank God for her and with her. That’s what Mary would want us to do because she constantly did that – here in this church and in Drinagh church, but so many times sitting in the kitchen in Derryclough. Her faith in God was unshakeable. It underpinned her life.

We thank God for her strong sense of belonging, too:- Mary was a pure O’Driscoll (in the best sense!). Maybe she didn’t have a choice — because both her father and her mother were O’Driscolls; and if that wasn’t enough, her father’s father also married an O’Driscoll. So both her parents and three of her grandparents were O’Driscolls. So now you can see why Jerome or Mary never married: there weren’t any O’Driscolls around that they weren’t related to already!! And it also explains why we’re related to almost every O’Driscoll in West Cork! And we’ll have to figure out how Lena escaped to marry a Hayes from Clashduve!

One of Mary’s great gifts for which we give thanks to God today, was her fabulous mind. She had a superb memory and knew the ins and outs of all the family history off by heart. And not just ancient history — she constantly updated it by inquiring about the new generations of all branches of the family tree.

We give thanks for her life of simplicity … in a Gospel sense. She was unattached to material things. She lived simplicity — but she wasn’t simple.

The great Spanish mystic John of the Cross wrote “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human success but on how much we have loved.”

Mary’s way of doing that was by having a simple but very welcoming house … for neighbours, friends, relations, to have tea. The cows and her work were very important to her – especially when Jerome might not be home on time to milk them; and in later years her dogs and her hens gave her great joy. She loved when people came to get her eggs — she was organic in feeding them way before it became popular!

Mary’s life revolved around people in a way: her family, neighbours, relatives and friends. And during such a long life she encountered a lot of people and almost everyone admired her gentle and positive attitude. And she was able to engage with people of all ages and loved when young people called.

We thank God today for the neighbourly community that surrounded her all during her life. Her neighbours have always meant so much to her and many of them were and have been calling for years. Some of them are gone ahead of her and I’m sure there’s a great scoríocht going on in the halls of Heaven with Mary, and Annie O’, Jerome Con, Mrs Paddy and many more.

Aunty Mary got a great lift when she saw that the house nearest to her was being made a home again by the Mulhearn Family in recent years. Libby, John and Johnny turned out to be great friends and neighbours to Mary and we are so grateful to them.

In recent years, Mary’s life was hampered by the effects of a debilitating condition that caused shakes and affected her speech as well. But it didn’t get her down. She was determined to drive on and she did. It was always only with great difficulty that she accepted help from John, or from Kathleen her home-help, or anyone else! She was never short of company and was always getting ready for another visit from her good friend Ellen or getting ready to go to town on Friday to catch up with all the friends or getting ready for her weekly trip to Mass.

Underlying all the changes that she saw around her in her life was a calm spirit of trust that filled her with great peace. “I’m fine,” was her full response to any inquiry about her health of if you offered to get her anything. “I’m fine, thank God”. She learned a lot in life and from life but she never learned how to complain or to criticise. Perhaps that’s a good recipe for all of us and her lasting legacy.

Mary had in Derryclough all she ever wanted on earth. May she now have in the next life, for all eternity, lasting happiness from the Lord.

May she rest in peace.