Sunday, 8 December 2013
Running a bar in a small town along the west coast of Ireland qualifies you for many roles, financial adviser, councillor, medic, peacekeeper not to mention the provider of drinks and hangovers for a whole community. You will find the young and not so young rubbing shoulders nightly you may even find a dog or two snoozing under an owners stool while they mingle. Any of you that have read my stories will know that I am a bit of a dog lover. I have never yet encountered a dog that caused me an ounce of bother in my bar but plenty two legged customers have ended up on the pavement, backside first.
Two of my most regular customers are Granny Fitz and Bobby. Mary Fitzgerald lives four miles outside town with twelve grown children. They are all married but never quiet cut the apron strings, every last one of them are living within ten minutes of where they were born. I have no idea how many grandchildren Mary has but it seems half the towns calls her Granny Fitz. With so many people calling her that it was only natural it spread to the rest of us. Bobby is the latest in a long line of dogs that shared Granny Fitz's life, they were all border collies.
Every Thursday Granny Fitz and Bobby would walk the four miles into town. Regular as clockwork she would collect her pension, visit the Co-Op and order what she needed, call to the butchers and various other shops along the way picking up items here and there. At each stop Bobby would wait patiently at the door until she finished talking and came walking back out. When a full round of the town was done they would stop by the church for a chat with Mr Fitzgerald who has been resident in the cemetery for over ten years. Bobby never felt the tug of a lead on his neck, he never needed it. You would always find him six inches behind Granny Fitz's heal watching every move she made with utter adoration. When lunchtime rolled around Granny Fitz would call in to me for a bowl of soup and a toasted ham sandwich. At first she left Bobby outside like everywhere else she visited but I insisted she bring him in. Bobby slinked in at first, not believing he was allowed. That first day Bobby lay at Granny Fitz's feet expecting to be hunted out into the street at any moment. Since that day he walks in with a huge doggie smile on his face. I always get lick and a head nuzzle from him before he settles down at Granny's feet while she eats. After lunch one of Granny's huge extended family would come and collect her shopping, dropping it back to her house while she and Bobby made their own way home using shanks mare.
A few weeks back Granny never turned up for lunch on Thursday which did not bother me much, she may have been away visiting relatives but when the following Thursday came and went without a visit from my most regular customer I made a call to one of her daughters. It turns out that Granny Fitz had taken a serous turn and was in hospital. For a woman who never saw 7am in bed her end came quickly. Not a house or business was not saddened by her passing.The funeral was one of the largest I can ever remember.
Now in this part of the world when a person dies the funeral will make its way from the church via the house of the departed to the cemetery. Like I said Granny lived four miles from town, despite the graveyard being next door to the church Granny Fitz's remains were slowly driven the length of the town allowing everyone to honour the passing of remarkable woman after which the mile long precession of cars made its way to Fitzgerald's, the house that half the town could trace their ancestry to. The hearse slowed as it approached the Fitzgerald homestead.
If you ask me to explain what happened next I cant. Bobby launched himself over the hedge, racing at the barely moving hearse. He barked incessantly ,it was not an angry bark but a pleading, heart broken cry in the only voice a dog possesses. Bobby jumped and clawed at the glass separating him from Granny Fitz, howling like he was being ripped limb from limb. The hearse gathered speed but even in third gear Bobby kept throwing himself against the glass. It was a heart breaking sight, the whole four miles Bobby ran faster than I have ever seen a dog run. When the hearse stopped at the grave yard Bobby's chest was a blur of movement as he wolfed air into his lungs, resolutely staying his course by remaining at the side of Granny Fitz, by her side to the end.
As the coffin was lifted to the shoulders of her six oldest sons, Bobby lay prone at the head of the mourners, keening. I looked into the eyes of that dog and I will never be told that they don't feel. If a dog could cry, Bobby was shedding floods. He was a dog no more, but a mourner, pure and simple. As the six sturdy men carried the coffin to the freshly opened grave Bobby remained, as he ever had, six inches behind Granny Fitz while she made her last trip through the graveyard.
When the coffin was lowered Bobby niched forward on his belly until his mussel and front paws hung over the edge of the grave. The priest began the service but Bobby could not contain his grief. Surrounded by a dozen Fitzgerald children and nearly seventy grandchildren, everyone knew the chief mourner had four legs. Bobby whimpered loudly, whining with sorrow. In the end it got too much for the priest. He turned to the undertaker and said quietly "Can you do something with the dog Sean." The burley undertaker had taken two steps towards Bobby before a deep voice rumbled from the assembled crowd "Sean Ryan, touch that dog and you will regret it for many a year."
The sound of Michael Fitzgerald's voice was enough to stop any man in his tracks. The whole Fitzgerald family closed ranks around the little black and white dog while respecting his sorrow. The undertaker retreated quickly. The priest finished the prayers and the congregation shook hands with the family. People drifted away, many to McFinnigans, were we raised a glass to a wonderful woman who would be long missed.
That night after cleaning up I locked the bar and walked towards home,my journey taking me past the grave yard. Something made me want to have a final word with one of my best customers. I walked through the moonlit headstones coming to the freshly closed grave but I was not alone. Bobby lay across Granny Fitz with huge sorrowful eyes. I hunkered down in front of him, rubbing his neck. "I miss her too boy" I said, before leaving the dog and his mistress alone in the moonlight.