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    Report tells of lonely deaths of elderly Irish

    By Noreen Bowden | January 25, 2011

    The Sunday Tribune has reported that there are hundreds of impoverished Irish people with no known family being buried in unmarked mass graves in London every year by local councils.

    The report says:

    In a case recently highlighted by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, working under the auspices of the Irish Bishops Council, Galway native Patrick Duggan would have been buried in a ‘pauper’s grave’ by Southwark council, had not outreach workers from the chaplaincy been able to trace Duggan’s family.

    The Irish Elder Persons project, based in the Camden Irish Centre and run by the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain, tracked Duggan’s relatives and his remains are to be returned for burial in Ireland.

    Helen Kerins, whose family has roots in Galway and who works at Southwark council, said that of the 50 or so people whose funerals are organised and funded by her borough annually, about half are elderly Irish men.

    “It tends to be men mostly, because women are more likely to tell someone of their predicament than men are in my experience,” she said.

    This report struck me as particularly sad. We really need to remember that one of the costs of emigration has been the isolation and loneliness of many older Irish emigrants who have lost touch with their families and their communities.

    And there’s something particularly poignant about the Irish link in death to the families of many emigrants. I once read a moving article about a family in England who had buried their father with a copy of his local Leitrim newspaper. It particularly struck me at the time as I had recently been to the wake of an elderly man in Queens, New York; most of those in attendance were Irish, and most of the relics on display to commemorate the man’s life were little tokens of Irishness – a book about his home village, a map of Limerick, a picture of him as a child in Ireland. My own mother’s grave is a fairly austere marker, with her name, birth and death dates, and the words, “Born in County Mayo”.

    It’s one of the things I’ve always felt that the Irish in Ireland do not appreciate fully about the way many Irish emigrants live abroad: the way people can hold Ireland in their hearts so tightly that even in death the link remains something so essential that it’s some comfort for the survivors to note it.

    And then there are these lonely men, alone in England and forgotten at home.

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