Ever since I was a teenager New Years Eve was my favourite night, even if I couldn’t get off bar work. I remember the last day of 1971, at a dance in Clonard Hall, when at midnight many girls cried because their boyfriends were interned. I remember in the Pigeon Club on New Years Eve in 1980, forming a circle around the tables and raucously singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ with the other revellers, including Nora McCabe who was facing her last few months on earth before being killed by an RUC plastic bullet.

I remember the wonderful parties in St Paul’s and St Gaul’s when at the stroke of midnight you felt, sometimes reluctantly, disloyally, that you had to let go of the past, that you were on the cusp of a fresh beginning, hoping for a brighter future, when the dead would forgive you for the fortune of living and time would help ease the passage of their loss.

For my family this past fortnight has been overshadowed by the fact that we buried my father - Big Dan, as he was known - on Christmas Eve, just seven weeks after the death of my youngest sister Susan who had been ill for a long time. Because of family circumstances - my mammy having been invalided twenty years ago following a brain haemorrhage; my two sisters living in England; first me in jail, then my brother Ciaran - it was my angel of a sister, Susan, who for many years looked after my father and the family home, travelling sometimes 56 miles twice a week, until illness slowly strangled her stamina and her life.

When my daddy returned from Mass that Sunday in late October I told him that Susan had died about an hour earlier and he simply crumpled. He never really got over her death, but it was his Catholic faith which was of greatest succour to him in his hour of need.

Just before Christmas he went out to a pensioners’ do in Beechmount and was called for two songs and later danced (despite two plastic kneecaps and his dependence on a walking stick). Everyone said he thoroughly enjoyed himself. He came home a bit earlier than usual, though still with a fair sup of whisky. Anyway, he was carrying his shoes and socks in his right hand and using the banister handrail for support with the other when he toppled back, fell just a short distance, cracked his skull and died, I would think, fairly quickly. He was found by Geraldine, the home help, who phoned the ambulance service, then me.

As I said before in regard to Irish funerals, those who came to the house, the Requiem Mass and the cemetery, or who sent sympathy cards, provided real comfort with their support and tributes to the man who was our father. He had his own close circle of senior citizens some of whom knew him differently, more dynamically, than us. And that shouldn’t be surprising because where are the young people whose parents know all the secrets of their lives?

I cried many times over his death and haven’t slept properly in two weeks. I’ve been thinking about lots of things: running through his influences on me and my rejection of certain of his values. Trying to understand him. He tried to keep his emotional cards close to his chest but was a mix of romantic and cynic, with the former winning out. When they were young he took my sisters to see ‘South Pacific’ and other Rogers and Hammerstein musicals. I remember my mammy telling me to go meet him in Bearnagh Drive on his way home from work and him opening up his coat to reveal a puppy for my birthday. I remember standing and watching how he shaved. Going through his possessions we came across love letters to my mammy, written from England in the mid-1950s where he had to go for work, revealing yet another side to him that he tried to mask, his insecurity and dependence.

When I got out of internment (ironically on the same day and date that he died) he and I went into town and spent the afternoon in Maginnis’s in the Markets. When we went out together I loved to watch him dancing. He was a big man but he had a way of moving gracefully - or little - so that his partner did most of the work but the spotlight magically remained on him.

I am not going to idealise him. There were lots of things we didn’t agree on. We had many heated political arguments in the early days of the Troubles. He always emphasised family first and duty. He would always keep my ego in check. If he said nothing about my Monday article in the ‘Andersonstown News’ I knew he liked it. But there were many times when he would tell me that what I wrote was ‘crap’. Plus, he didn’t like my second novel about the gay hero! But perhaps that’s that generation for you.

There were certainly a few songs and dances in him yet and that’s the real tragedy, that but for a minor change in his movements he might have lived longer.

So, on New Years Eve we went out to a party for some respite, and toasted all our loved ones, but in particular, parents, to whom we owe the world.

‘Auld Lang Syne’, Old Long Since, Times Past. And Ciaran, my brother, sang a few verses of one of my father’s favourite songs, ‘Stardust’ by Nat King Cole:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time

Steals across the meadows of my heart,

High up in the sky, the little stars climb

Always reminding me that we’re apart.

You wandered down the lane and far away,

Leaving me a song that will not die.

Love is now the stardust of yesterday,

The music of the years gone by.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison