During Tommy Kerr’s ninety-one years on earth a lot has
changed in this country. My dad was
born in 1915 in Meigh in south Armagh when
was all one country and part of the
, This was during the Great War, a
year before the Easter Rising and the
. He lived through it all: the
Irish Free State
, the early troubles, the hungry thirties, the Blitz, relative postwar
prosperity and the latest troubles.
in the early Thirties, he still had a fondness for the place.
Earlier this year my sister took him for a nostalgic drive around some
parts he hadn’t seen for over half a century.
He really enjoyed it. On a
on the train on St Patrick’s Day last year, he eagerly pointed out landmarks
around his old stamping ground. One
of his earliest memories was seeing all the King’s dead horses lying by
when the IRA blew up the line to attack a train carrying soldiers.
Apparently King George V was opening the Northern Ireland Parliament in
and the horses and men were intended to take part in the ceremony. Dozens of
horses were killed in the explosion. No wonder he never forgot this grisly
He also recalled attending the funeral of Lord Carson in
. This was the biggest funeral
ceremony he had ever seen until George Best’s last year.
During the Second World War he worked in Ewart’s mill in
which was turned over to producing uniforms and other equipment for the war
effort. He spent many evenings on fire watch on the roof of the building.
During the big blitz, he had spent an exhausting night putting out
incendiary bombs. Just about
deadbeat, he went home to Rosapenna for a good sleep only to find that his home
had become a pile of rubble. Fortunately no other members of the family were
injured, I know of no surviving pictures of my dad from any earlier than 1941.
My mum was an ARP warden during the war.
She met dad during the war and
married him just before Christmas in 1947. At
first they lived with her mother off the
, but they eventually got a flat in Green End in a new Housing Trust estate
My first sister was born in 1954, I came along in 1957 and
my second sister in 1962. By that
time we had moved a brand new house in Movilla Park This was our family home for
most of my life.
Most of dad’s brothers and sisters – and his mum -
just after the war. Another brother, who had served in the RAF lived in
for a time before returning to
. Tommy remained a home bird,
although he did manage to travel to
a few times to see his relatives. The last time was only a few years ago.
Hew was certainly highly regarded by them. Some of the loveliest tributes
and sympathy messages I have received have come from
My mother never enjoyed good health and died in her
mid-fifties in 1980 – five days after Dad retired.
This was a terrible knock back but he didn’t let it beat him.
He really enjoyed his retirement and remained very active, often walking
everywhere. He made great use of his bus pass, often getting on any bus he
fancied and walking back to
city centre. Often I would get
reports from friends who had spotted him walking in the most unlikely of places!
Until the age of 87 he was still walking on the Twelfth with his
lodge, Primrose Temperance. He only stopped when he admitted to himself that he
couldn’t stick the pace anymore,
On his ninetieth birthday the family organised a terrific
party for him in the Spectrum Centre on the
. My sister had organised this with
military precision and it went very well. Tommy
was tickled pink by the large number of friends, relations and well wishers who
turned up for the event.
He strongly valued his independence.
Until May he was even going into town on the bus to visit the Linenhall
Library where he liked to read the Newry Reporter – his old
local newspaper – each Saturday. It
really upset him that he couldn’t do the things he used to do after he
suffered a fall in early June. In
the last couple of months he was in and out of hospital and the Cherrytrees
nursing home in Carrickfergus. He
hated it. He was miserable. He found
it very difficult to accept that his independence had been lost
All he wanted to do was go home to his own wee flat in Rathcoole Close.
Even in his last hours, all he wanted to do was fight to get out of bed,
out of hospital and back home. He
was a fighter right to the end.
Despite his guts and tenacity he also had a generous
spirit. He cared about other people
and even cats. One of my cats went missing on June 6th.
Right up to a few days before he died, he was still asking if there was
any word of my lost cat. They just
don’t make them like that anymore. We shall all miss him.
Thanks for the memories, Dad!
Thanks to the staff of Cherrytrees and
for all they did for Tommy and to Rev Alice Stewart of the Church of the
Ascension for the magnificent way she conducted the funeral serviceand comforted
the family. Thanks also to Primrose
Temperance LOL who were kind enough to carry Tommy’s coffin to the graveside.
I was deeply touched by he affection he was held in by so many people who knew
him and contackted the famil to say so.
MEARS KERR: Born: January 21st 1915. Died: August 3rd 2006