Lives Remembered

Raymond Lonergan: Co Armagh man was living embodiment of culture and customs of rural Irish life

UP until his recent illness, Raymond Lonergan had maintained a tradition of over a hundred years in the heart of Co Armagh.

Members of the Lonergan clan and their families would gather each Easter Sunday in a field beside the native homestead, solemnly light a fire and afterwards all engage in an evening of Irish song, music and dancing.

From an early age Raymond was introduced to the long-standing attachment regarding rituals and customs of Irish rural life as his natural inheritance of self-worth, dignity, status and belonging.

He carried this with him throughout his life and lived it out more and more with the years.

But this was no dour, puritanical, exclusive attitude. To him it was an uplifting all-embracing commitment through family, work, culture, GAA, faith, vintage cars, recreation, conversation or sheer good craic.

Raymond was born in 1935 in the townland of Cornagrally in the parish of Loughgilly (Whitecross), one of nine brothers and a sister to Patrick and Annie.

After leaving school at 14 he trained as a mechanic and worked with Rowlan and Harris Motors in Newry until the mid-eighties when it closed down.

Following his marriage to Lil McCoy from Newtownhamilton in 1959, they came to live in Lissummon and later bought a house with six acres on the Ayallogue Road, Meigh, Killeavey.

Raymond eventually set up a garage at the back of his house and about 20 years ago he became established all over Ireland for his expertise in inserting dual controls for driving instructors.

As a Gaelic footballer Raymond won an Armagh senior football championship with Carrickcruppen in 1959 in the half-backs.

His grandson Ciaran O'Hanlon is a member of the current Armagh panel and two other grandsons, Artie and Eoin McGuinness, are established county hurlers.

Raymond was big into ceili dancing all his life and he and Lil competed in ballroom and ceili dancing, practising in a room at home to the record player.

He also availed of the weekly music sessions of the Ring of Gullion Comhaltas in Forkhill and the Stray Leaf in Mullaghbawn.

In 2012 he was awarded the ‘Keepers of the Tradition’ Scroll of Honour by the Tommy Makem Festival of Song in Armagh for his life-long commitment and inspirational presence in the promotion of Irish dance, song and music.

Raymond was full of old time courtesies, rituals and mannerisms. He would dress meticulously in suit, collar and tie for the chapel on Sunday, and give a ‘luckpenny’ after the sale of a car or animal at the mart.

He and his eight brothers maintained a life-long bond, part of the wider family solidarity.

In fact when he got married, seven of them acted as best man - only Laurie could not get off work.

His sister Kathleen sadly died at the age of 40 from a brain tumour.

On the day of Raymond's death on January 28, a special musical tribute in an arrangement of The Parting Glass was sent from grandchildren Mairead and Aislinn, both music teachers in Dubai.

The empty spaces in Meigh chapel at his funeral Mass were filled by the splendid singing of neighbour Marita Byrne and the moving homily of Fr Richard Naughton, who spoke of the crosses Raymond had to bear, especially the tragic death of infant son Finbarr in 1966 and that of his wife Lil almost five years ago.

He described Raymond’s uplifting personality and good neighbourliness, his boundless devotion to his family and how they all returned that affection in his final years of dementia at home.

And the empty spaces were filled with his presence in another way at the end of the requiem.

This was something alive in all their heads, the memory of him singing his most cherished song, one that seemed to be a bonding with the old idyllic days and ways of life, and a lament for their passing.

Raymond was a very good ballad singer and would often soar into The Galway Shawl or Will Ye Go Lassie Go.

But this other song was reserved for when he was in a certain mood, a song full of nostalgia in both word and melody.

When he sang Pat Murphy’s Meadow his demeanour demanded full attention, and with closed eyes, with total heart and soul would move into the opening verse:

The autumn days are here again, the night winds chilly grow/

The woodlands turn to golden hue and the harvest moon's aglow/

To hear again of days long past, to come no more I know/

When I mowed Pat Murphy's meadow in the sunny long ago.

Raymond Lonergan is survived by his children Damian, Patricia, Kieran, Elizabeth, Oliver and Fintan, brother Alphie, 19 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Peter Makem

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Lives Remembered