This is (roughly) what I said about Grandad at the two services before his burial last month. It was slightly different each time I read it, as i added things in depending on the people who was listening – there are things that were more relevant to the people in Ireland and accordingly for those in England.
He was a man with many a different layer and as such, even just a few short words about him needed to be added to and altered to give just a hint of the man he was.
This is rough – I’ve not gone over and subbed it as I find it quite difficult to go over again – so I can only say sorry for the typos and mistakes which I know are in there.
So, to my the best of my limited ability I give you my tribute to the greatest man I had the pleasure of not just knowing, but being taught and inspired by – Jim Earl.
He grew up in the village of Leighlinbridge, as one of 11 siblings before moving to Dublin to find work as a young man.
He worked in pubs across the Dublin area before meeting Kathleen Filgate, who was working as a nurse. They sailed across the Irish Sea together and settled in Southampton, where they married and had two children, Des and Moira.
He spent 40 years working in the Ford plant at Swaythling, as well as moonlighting in numerous other small ways over the years to ensure he could provide enough for his young family.
But whilst the list of things he did can give you an idea of the landmarks of his life, they can never give you the sense of the man he truly was.
What you called him depended on how you knew him. Those only recently acquainted with him would call him James, his siblings called him Jimmy and one particularly patriotic landlord in a pub he worked at in Dalkey near Dublin insisted on calling him Seamus. Although to most people – including his beloved wife – he was Jim the names he probably heard the most were Dad and from me, Grandad.
One of the words most often used to describe his charming – and a few years ago he told exactly how in his younger days he put this to good use during his time as a young man in Dun Laoghaire, with many a fair maiden falling under his spell. Indeed, he was often in trouble from the patriotic landlord for misjudging how long it would take him to walk up the huge hill to work having been courting a young lady down beside the waterside.
The use of this charm came in handy when he met Kathleen – or Kate as he would call her – in Dublin. Working in various boozers in Dublin he would often have to sort out troublemaker by throwing them out of the pub. She later said that she had never seen such a strong man as him, as evidenced by him chucking many a bowsy out on to College Green.
Although he fancied the idea of moving to London or even Australia, it was Southampton where they settled due to her sister, Delia having moved there. Jim would cycle for miles to go to work, before getting the job at Ford’s, where he became an active member of the union and using it as an outlet for his deeply held beliefs of fairness and justice.
His desire to do right by people didn’t always go to plan however. He once popped around his sister-in-law’s house, but found himself having to “let himself in” the back door. Once inside he made tea, admired the vast array of new furniture and wallpaper and even sorted out her post – but was baffled that the letters for all for what he assumed were the previous residents. It was only when he popped his head out of the front door to see if Delia was walking up the road, that he spotted her going into a house a few doors down. He quickly scarpered and for many a year, he would say through tears of laughter how he always wondered what the homeowners made of the fresh cup of tea and sorted post left on the kitchen work surface.
He was a man who loved the natural world, and enjoyed walking with the various dogs he had through fields and woodland alike, listening for different types of birds and looking out for all the different types of trees and plants he would see. He particularly loved springtime, when he could admire all the green shoots sprouting up.
His own garden was something he worked tirelessly on, right up until a few weeks ago. He found it hard work but he loved seeing the end result and the satisfaction from seeing things he planted grow so well.
Working at Ford’s for such a long period of time took its toll – his hearing was far from great by the time he retired in the 90s and for many years getting him to wear his hearing aids was a struggle. As she lamented about where he would always choose to leave his hearing aids, Nanny would often say: “That’s the piano with the best hearing in the country”.
Despite spending most of his life in England, he was forever a proud Irishman and loved watching anything with a link back to the Auld Country. Every year he would go back to Ireland and would take great delight in pointing out any success the country enjoyed – particularly when it came to sport and doubly so if it was at the expense of England.
He would be deeply touched to see so many people here today. He was, by his own admission, a sentimental person (as an aside, you only need to see the piles of “good bits of wood” he had to know how hard it found it to let go of things) so his charm, sense of justice, love of nature and tireless work ethic were bettered only by his love and devotion to those he cared for.
It wouldn’t take much to make his crystal blue eyes well up slightly, be it a particularly good joke or emotional story.
Of the 89 years he spent here, I was only around for 34. It can be hard to do justice to the entire lifetime of someone who you only knew for a third of their time, but try I must.
To me, I simply called him Grandad and in those 34 years we did so much together. He would take he down the park, play on the swings, run around with me and the dog, after he had spent a long hard day at work. I would wait for him outside his bedroom door after a night-shift so he could take me to Woolworths, which I knew better as the He Man Shop. At age five, he gave me my first sip of beer – probably not something he told my Mum I imagine and at age 7, we watched Ireland’s first foray into a World Cup together.
He taught me how to whistle, wire a plug, make tea, build a bird house, fix a bike, take care of a garden, look after a car and even told me as a teenager where I was going wrong trying to get a girlfriend.
Although I called him Grandad, he was really my Dad. A man who throughout my 34 years I have always idolised and will continue to do so, until I draw my final breath. I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me and ow as a father-to-be myself, I can only hope I am half the man he was.
Eleven years ago, on the night we were told Nanny had died, we were allowed into the ward to say our goodbyes. As we walked away, Grandad stopped put his left hand in the air and gently waved goodbye to her. Today we do that to him.