Eulogy for my Dad

Paddy Mulcahy 1949- 2009

Paddy died suddenly on a lovely sunny September day in a beautiful spot called Musheramore, a small hill in northeast Cork, near Millstreet, while out hillwalking with his wife and friends.

My good friend Michael O’Sullivan sent me this email. Our little band used to rehearse and record in the attic of my parent’s house:

This is terrible, terrible news. I can’t believe it. I wish I could be there to give you a shoulder to cry on. My thoughts are with you and your family (especially Terry). Your dad has a special place in my memories. In many ways he is “larger than life”. From where I am outside Cork Paddy is like an image of Cork. All that humour and fire and intelligence. I remember you telling me that you and him did not always see eye to eye, but you and your family were always so close and, for me, that was, and is, his pride and joy.  I remember sitting around the dinner table in Courtlands with all of you after our music. You’d all be challenging each other and taking each other on with hilarious banter, but at the centre of it all was your dad and if the pride and love of Irish fathers ever gets shown, then it was shown around that table then.

Thanks Michael.

A couple of years ago, when we had a lads night out with my brothers, my dad said to me that he didn’t know what he had passed on to me. We talked a little about how different we were, then it hit us- teaching. We decided that teaching was in the genes. I’ve thought about that conversation on and off ever since. A few days ago, he said to me “you and I are very alike, we both prefer the sun”. He was planning to retire to Nice. We were all trying to talk him in to retiring early, but he really loved his job as principal, and he felt that he wasn’t finished yet.

Last week, the Beatles, my favourite band, released the remasters. They sound great, it’s like discovering them all over again. I remember when my dad first got a decent hifi, and he joined the cork city record library. One of the first records he brought home was the Beatles Sergeant Pepper LP. So last week I was there again, discovering the magic of the Beatles, thanks to my dad.

Then it crystalised in my mind, all of the things that he had passed on to us. There are so many. So I will talk about only some of them.

He gave us the gift of reading, as soon as we could read he was giving us books. We all had a precocious reading age. He shared with us his passion for the English language, and the great writers. He always encouraged reading, and was always ready to engage in a good debate. Dylan Thomas, Joseph Heller, Henry Miller, Philip Roth and especially John Updike. He gave me Sue Townsend, Spike Milligan and Douglas Adams. Every Christmas he gave all of us a book. So I love to read.

When I got curious about the tape recorder, he bought me a blank cassette tape, and showed me how to clean the heads to get a good sound. There was Cat Stevens, Scott Joplin, ELO, Monty Python. He made sacrifices to send us to music lessons. So I love music and sound.

As soon as we were old enough, we all had summer jobs. We couldn’t wait to start, because he gave us a strong work ethic. Paddy always had a contact somewhere, so we always had work.

From a very early age he showed us how to swim, and I think when we started he couldn’t even swim himself. That was the real teacher in him. The passion more than the knowledge. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t swimming at least once a week. I remember walking to Mayfield swimming pool, and later Jury’s, where he made even more contacts of course. So I love to swim.

One summer, 1987 I think, he borrowed an Apple Mac from his school, the top of the range model of course, and he showed us how to use it. Since then we’ve always had a Mac. Often when he phoned I would answer with “Hello, Apple helpline”. He loved photography. That Christmas, he bought me a serious camera and showed me all he knew about that too.

He was a teacher, a discipline I rejected for a while, but with his support and encouragement I realised my talent for it. I had the pleasure of observing him in class a few times, and it was a joy to watch.  A few times I subbed for him, and those classes were special. I remember many passionate conversations about teaching, especially recently, because I think he became even more passionate about it as the principal in the North Mon. So I love to teach.

Since I started writing this down, I keep thinking of yet another thing that he passed on to us. He brought a book back from Pompeii, after the school tour to Italy in 1982. He said not to look at it because it had “dirty pictures”. But like any book in the house it was left out, so I read it and was fascinated. This year I fulfilled a life long ambition to visit it, and like him, I was amazed. It would take hours to go through them all the things that he passed on to us. He gave us all a lot, including devastating good looks and charm… and of course humility!  He called it “The Mulcahy”.

Paddy was a natural teacher and a great parent. He gave us inspiration, and the freedom and space to explore. He gave us so many life lessons. He was a very principled man. My dad was always there for me. He would drop everything to help if any of us were in trouble. He would smile, and with a silly voice refer to “Muggins’s Bank”.

But the biggest thing he gave us was love. He was always telling other people how proud he was of us. I love my dad and I miss him. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone now, and it’s hard to accept that I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to him. So I’ll say it now.

Goodbye Paddy.

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