A CROWD gathered around a hearse in Kilbrook, Tullamore and a clear, strong voice sang 'Spancil Hill' note perfect. Not even the pony pulling a cart-load of children nor the horse drawing a sulky interrupted the mournful tune.
The funeral procession had moved from the town centre up High Street, taking the left onto O'Moore Street and out the Clonminch Road to the cemetery before making the brief detour across the road to Kilbrook, home of the deceased Martin McDonagh. When the song's final verse was aired, the group turned back to the graveyard.
There were about 50 mourners walking behind the horse-drawn hearse with several other horses and the pony-and-trap at the rear.
And all of this on Easter Monday, April 13. There was no social distancing, nor any effort at maintaining distance. It was like any funeral procession, with the additional features which distinguished it as one associated with the Travelling community.
Casual passers-by on that fine bank holiday morning were surprised to see such a large public gathering and some asked 'Where are the guards?' The gardai were indeed present, keeping a respectful distance in their vehicles.
The following day the funeral of Tom McInerney took place in Birr and again concerns were expressed about breaches of the advice on social distancing.
The Government guidelines on funerals during the Covid-19 pandemic are quite clear. The funeral should be private and limited to a maximum of 10 people as advised by the public health authorities.
Only members of the person’s household, close family members or close friends if the deceased has no household or family members, should attend.
Social distancing must be practised at all times and mourners should follow the advice on social distancing when travelling to and from the funeral gathering. “Social distancing of at least 2m between identified groups is recommended for everyone,” the guide says.
Pavee Point, the Traveller and Roma Centre, issued a statement to the Midland and Tullamore Tribune saying Traveller organisations around the country are calling on Travellers to fully adhere to Covid-19 public health measures, including restrictions on funerals. “In this way people can show the deceased the respect and dignity they deserve,” the statement said.
“These restrictions are not easy and Traveller organisations understand the importance of funerals to bereaved families. We want to make sure people take the long-term view on this. We want to make sure that as many people as possible are around to support bereaved families in the future.
“Bereaved families are vulnerable, may be in a state of shock and feel unable to get the message across that it’s ok to stay away from a funeral. But, given the Covid-19 situation, bereaved families do understand that people need to stay at home,” added the statement.
Pavee Point said “the reality is that we don’t know who has, or who does not have, the virus” so taking all precautions is vital.
“We are all being encouraged to act as if we all have Covid-19 and that’s why we’ve been told to stay at home as much as possible and not to meet up in groups.
“The Covid-19 crisis is particularly hard on Travellers given underlying health conditions and overcrowded living conditions. Gathering at funerals is a sure-fire way to make the situation worse and pass on the virus if any one person does happen to have it. This puts the whole Traveller community at further risk. By adhering to the restrictions, we can do our part in reducing (as far as possible) further spread of virus and/or prevent any unnecessary deaths.
“Marking the passing of a loved one is hugely important and to see a loved one buried without the usual ceremonies is very difficult. But it will be possible in the future to hold a church service for the loved one who has passed. At that point people will get a chance to pay their respects in person and pass on their good wishes to the family.”
Messages of sympathy could be expressed through Mass cards, by phone, WhatsApp or Facebook, plus the book of online condolences on rip.ie
“Bereaved Traveller families need our support – not just now but into the future. By staying at home during Covid-19 we can make sure we will be there for them in the weeks, months and years to come.”