Two words best summed up the late Michael McGrath (72), The Commons, Belleek, Fr Tiernagh Beggan P.P. told mourners at his Funeral Mass on Tuesday - “gentle strength”.
It was a beautiful sunny morning in Belleek, an occasional outburst of rain reminding all in attendance they were still in Ireland, as the former Donegal Democrat employee, spanning almost half a century, was laid to rest in the cemetery adjoining St. Patrick’s Church, Belleek.
Michael or ‘Mickey’ as he was more fondly remembered, was described as a “quiet and unassuming man”, summed up in the first reading at the Mass from the Book of Wisdom: “The righteous, though they die early, will be at rest. For old age is not honoured for length of time, or measured by number of years; but understanding is grey hair for anyone and a blameless life is ripe old age.”
Guards of honour were formed by his former colleagues who worked with him in the Donegal Democrat, the local school and members of the Erne Gaels GAA club, as his remains arrived at the Church.
His fellow workers, now nearly all retired, who had soldiered through many deadlines at the ‘Democrat’ stood in silent tribute. Michael first worked at the Democrat offices on the Gables on Castle Street in Ballyshannon, then onto Tirchonaill Street (now McMullin solicitors), before later moving to a new state-of-the-art facility of Donegal Road (now HSE Ambulance Control centre).
In his homily, Fr Beggan described the young Michael’s loving upbringing, having lost his mother Margaret when he was just a one-year-old and thereafter being raised by his aunt Lily Mulrone.
He attended the local primary school in Belleek before becoming a boarder at Garran Tower, in Co. Antrim. Michael later returned to Belleek, and spent some time at the Tech in Ballyshannon, before joining the staff of the Donegal Democrat as an apprentice typesetter in 1955 as a 15-year-old.
From then until his retirement forty five years later, he dedicated his working life to the paper that was to oversee a county that was plotting huge advances and change over the next half century. These included rapid changes in newspaper production and technology, which Mickey took in his stride.
A keen and competitive sportsman, he was able to turn his hand to anything that resembled a ball including soccer, Gaelic, squash, tennis and handball. His love of the ‘Sport of Kings’ was legendary and he was a great admirer of golf, one of the few games he did not actually play.
Fr Beggan’s said that deceased’s role as a family man was the cornerstone of all things that he stood for.
Michael excelled in that role as his nine children will testify and later he relished the role of a loving grandfather, who was there to listen, guide and offer a kind word to all his grandchildren.
His ability to relate to people was also mentioned by Fr Beggan, striking a chord with the packed congregation, who remembered a humble man, who was happy to get on with things, without making a fuss. His leadership was of the quiet kind, rather than the megaphone variety.
The great dignity of strength that he had, as he battled illness of the last couple of years was also alluded to, as was his great love for life itself.
It was remarked that as the cortege made the very short journey to his last resting place that both Fermanagh and Donegal had lost someone truly special. Many will concur with that fitting sentiment.
Chief celebrant Fr Beggan P,P, was joined at the altar by Fr Anthony O’Shea, relative of the family and Fr Ambrose O’Gorman P.E.
Michael is survived by his loving wife, Margo; daughters Marian, Eileen, Michelle, Claire; sons, John, James, Conor, Martin and Kevin; brother Jim; sister Moira (Louth); sisters-in-law; brothers-in-law, grandchildren, and a wide circle of family and friends to whom deepest sympathy is extended.