Eulogy to Michael Cunningham–St Anthony of Padua, Melksham, Wiltshire 1 February 2016

Good afternoon everyone, my name is Mike Cunningham and Michael was my father.

Dad hailed from a small Irish village with a big heart called BallyLoughHane. Dad epitomized what it meant to be Irish in his time. Born sandwiched between two World Wars, a country boy enveloped in a loving but very poor childhood.

He understood what it was to go hungry as a child, giving him a lifelong love of fresh milk, a device used by his mother to stave off the pangs of hunger.

Despite being poor, he was also typically Irish. Both simple and complex, loving and strong, willing to work yet able to play even harder .

His sense of humor may be one of the stranger gifts he has dealt to many present today. A combination of Tommy Cooper and Dave Allen; which meant dad could laugh at the everyday and was not always politically correct in his observations. That is an understatement!

Dad’s early life was spent on the move. Once old enough he enlisted in the Irish Army. He also became acquainted with explosives, (which suited his personality) was an expert marksman and learned how to deplete Dublin of its supply of Guinness on a weekend night. He served Mass on Sunday, keeping his eye on his beloved Church all the while.

Eventually, dad, like his siblings headed to Britain for work; Wales was his first stop. During this time he reunited with a childhood friend, Norah Stokes.

They met again, courted each other and in 1953, they married. The marriage was very fruitful as you can see from the generations here present. During this time, I joined the family, their firstborn in Wales, and we moved to the West of England.

Turns out the West of England was to become the home he sought when leaving Ireland … right up to this day. The life in the West Country, provided a new home … this time with abundant work to feed an ever growing family.

The dad we knew was a bundle of contradictions, like many Irishmen.

He treasured work, particularly work with his hands, in a sacred way. He taught himself how to build walls, roofs, sheds, garages, even factory and workshop facilities. He also had a love of gardening which sustained him in later years.

Dad also did much work for the Church. Dad was the atypical Vatican II Catholic lay person … he got things done.

Dad build St. Anthony’s first public toilet for the parishioners just a few yards from here. This provided great relief for those in need during Fr. Megan’s lengthy sermons.

At a time of change the nuns in Trowbridge needed transportation, so he taught them to ride bicycles. I can only imagine that spectacle.

He also taught the nuns in Trowbridge how to drive, a mantle no other man was willing to take up at the time according to a recent conversation with a priest who remembers it.

Dad was happy in the allotment, the garden, the pub, on holiday in his beloved Cornwall.

Sadly, in 1990, our mother passed on after a battle with cancer.

Dad had known loss and separation before, parents, a brother, and our twin sisters Eileen and Nora. But this was devastating for him. Mom had always cared for him and it took him years to come to terms with it. He never forgot her.

As always, the light emerges from the darkness and for the second time in his life, dad found love again.

Ruth and Dad married and many happy years together followed.

Ruth added considerably to dad’s gardening skills, welcomed our family as if her own and showed us that kindness and love only a mother can know. We mourn her loss as our own together today.

Dad also had a third love in his life, or I should say “loves”. Some were from England, others from Italy, France and even the Checz Republic. Shocking isn’t it?

I am talking of course of dad’s preoccupation with cars.

He loved cars, and the car salesmen loved dad. He continued to drive till the age of 84, much to my brother’s chagrin; who despite the fact that Paul is a driving instructor, my father did not always heed advice on first, second or any hearing.

It was a part of who he was, and we loved him for it. Well most of the time!

We know the sanctuary’s of dad life continue on, his family and loved ones, the Church, Crockerton garden center, the walls and buildings and monuments that mark his existence.

However, the part that truly lives on is love. The love that binds us all here today. The sacramental love of his marriages, his children, the fruit of this love; his friends and loved ones. And the unconditional love of those who knew him only months before his death; the carers, nurses, ministers and others who spent time with him to make those last days more peaceful. You helped him pass peacefully into the night, as he is readied for the final part of his journey.

Thank you all. Thank you dad. Thank you God.

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