By Declan Foley
in Melbourne, Australia
On the evening of Friday September 28 “great throngs” gathered to pay their respects to the late Eugene Gillespie in Sligo town at the Foley & McGowan Funeral Home, as they did again the following morning at St. Anne’s Parish Church.
Every person attending had their personal reason to stand with Eugene’s brother Brian, his sisters Patsy and Elizabeth, their spouses and children; be it relative, neighbour, close friend, or a nodding acquaintance with Eugene or his family.
The previous Sunday I was woken at 7AM by a phone call from a heartbroken niece sobbing hysterically “Eugene, Eugene...is dead” My sister came on and told me as best she could between sobs what had occurred. Like many thousands I experienced shock, horror and anger, followed by great sadness. The natural emotions of everyone who knew and loved Eugene Gillespie, and whom he loved: no matter where they were in the world on hearing this sad news.
In 1869 John Butler Yeats, in one of his innumerable famed ‘educational’ epistles, wrote to his friend Professor Dowden:
“‘I would have a man know all emotions. Shame, anger, love, pity, contempt, admiration, hatred, and whatever other feelings there have to be, to have all those roused to their utmost strength, and to have all of them roused, is the aim, as I take it, of the only right education.’
There is much food for thought in these words. Eugene was indeed a most understanding man. His love of knowledge and his love of “life” is a valuable lesson to have. Eugene did not believe in God: rather he believed Him, and he lived his life as a witness to God. A life of challenge, but an enjoyable challenge, where there is more than enough for everyone.
Sligo like many towns, villages and cities throughout Ireland today is experiencing harsh financial realities: the result of inane amoral attempts to satisfy the insatiable appetite of Mammon. Money was what mattered, -- no I am wrong -- it was the number of zeroes that mattered, to those who boasted publicly of their imagined monetary wealth and property ownership -- At least in the life time of W B Yeats, men “fumbled in the greasy till, adding the ha’pence to the pence”—and did not deal in imaginary figures and letters imposed upon paper in ink.”
At the height of the boom, that was supposed “to get even more boomer” the so-called ‘developers’ (on the back of borrowed money) could not inveigle Eugene to part with the family residence and shop in Old Market Street. Refusing every monetary offer, including veiled threats of being left high and dry in the midst of imaginary skyscrapers dotting the Sligo skyline, he steadfastly stood against the destruction being wrought on his neighbourhood.
Not just his house, but the street layout is part and parcel of the history of Sligo and therefore untouchable. Those morally bankrupt people who put their faith in Mammon in the heyday of the “Comical Tiger” are today financially bankrupt. Yet again, left with the only property any human being can ever own: his or her Soul.
The following quote is the opening lines of a book titled ‘How the Irish Saved Civilisation by Thomas Cahill:
“On the last cold day of December in the dying year we count as 406, the river Rhine froze solid, providing the natural bridge that hundreds and thousands of hungry men, women and children had been waiting for. They were the barbari--to the Roman an undistinguished, matted mass of Others, not terrifying, just troublemakers, annoyances, things one would rather not have to deal with--non-Romans.”
“Others” are those who refuse to participate in society and democracy by rejecting the rules, written and unwritten of Democracy. They reject the laws of the land and attempt to impose their own rules on society. Their actions are not alone a threat to the State, but a threat to the rights of every individual.
There are ample words written by philosophers and people of wisdom, past and present to remind us of our personal responsibilities, not alone to our neighbours, and society at large, but most importantly to ourselves. Locking ourselves behind our front doors in fear removes our power and empowers the ‘others’.
With individual rights comes an individual responsibility. All who condemn the assault on Eugene Gillespie are morally bound to write or email their local Councilors’, TD’s and Senator’s demanding the immediate cessation of financial cuts to the Garda Siochana; an increase in the numbers of Garda; the strengthening of the laws and the imposition of lengthy terms of imprisonment. Court administered sentences must be served in full for those who hold the law in total disregard. The law of the land should, and must, apply equally to every citizen, irrespective of their status or self-appointed position in different levels of society. God has no favourites, therefore neither may any of us.
The usual easy excuses are available to trot out “What can I do on my own?” “No one will heed what I say” etc. etc. The ‘others’ are very much aware of this and play on it to the fullest extent. You as an individual can make great change to society. In particular, participating in elections by casting your vote. By refusing to cast your vote, you too, reject democracy and society and are little different from the ‘others’.
The tragic death of Eugene Gillespie is a timely reminder of our own responsibility for the good of humanity. Three men, and their vision for Ireland, shaped Eugene’s life, as it did many of his generation. Circa 1960 Declan Costello, Garret Fitzgerald and Gerry Sweetman and others published a document “Towards a Just Society”. The political establishment of the day allied to tribal politics ensured its failure, just as it had in 1951 with Noel Browne’s “Mother and Child Scheme”.
President Roosevelt (FDR) upon taking office in 1933 addressed the American nation: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In a message to Congress in June 1934, FDR stated that among his administration's objectives, he placed "the security of the men, women and children of the Nation first." The "security of the home, the security of livelihood, and the security of social insurance," he stated, "constitute a right that belongs to every individual."
In 2012 we have not alone the words of the great philosophers of Greece, Rome and the Bible; we also have the lessons of the peaceful actions of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr. to guide us away from all violence. When each of us accounts to our Creator for the individual talents given to us for the good of humanity we will not be able to call upon a priest, politician or lawyer to make submissions for leniency on our behalf. Let neither God in the next life, nor man in this earthly life, find us lacking in our rights and responsibilities as we make a stand for a just and decent society; a society where there are no ‘others’.
The Sligo poet W B Yeats first published his poem “Sailing to Byzantium” on September 26, 1928, it includes the lines: “That is no country for old men” and “An aged man is but a paltry thing” The young of today will one day be the old, but one sincerely hopes Ireland will not be regarded as “no country for old men “ or women, nor an aged man or woman regarded as ‘but a paltry thing’.
The great love, hope, charity and forgiveness Eugene Gillespie had for his neighbours throughout the world must never be forgotten.
___________________Editor's Note:Scholarship ::
The reward fund arranged by Eugene's friend,
Declan Foley (Melbourne, Australia) will now be used to establish a
Gaeltacht Scholarship in Eugene's name. All are invited to contribute,
no matter how small the donation.
The Fund's detail's are; The Eugene Gillespie Memorial Fund
Sligo Credit Union,
Stephen St., Sligo.
Account Number 22735