This blog has lost its most steadfast reader. My father W.M. Barron, who died on Tuesday October 18, 2011, was not always a fan of everything featured here, but to his credit he never tried to censor the Blarney Crone and found the blog a good way to keep up with life in Itchy Ankle and environs, extra to our weekly phone call.
I hope you will like to see the tribute I delivered at dad’s funeral, held on Friday October 21 in Belfast.
I was 39 when I overheard my father telling someone “After their Mother died, I really tried to make them all independent” he said “in case they ever had to do without me too” So my father put in years of spadework for this moment, and Anne, Peter and I must now follow through.
Standing alone was very important to my dad, as was following through. “I won’t make you a promise I can’t be sure I can keep” he’d say and when our kids start with “ But you said…” we too late remember the wisdom of his words.
Of course the three of us all berated him for his well-worn adages, especially when they didn’t suit our purpose. From his earliest days at work in a chemist’s shop at 16 and later as an apprentice at the shipyard he preached “a place for everything and everything in its place”
It was of course part of my dad’s independence training not to turn around for Anne’s forgotten lunchbox, or Peter’s recorder or my gym kit. I managed to dodge out of PE for several years running thanks to that philosophy.
If you knew the Barron family when they lived in Wyndham Street in Cliftonville, you will know that my dad was the apple of his mother’s eye—so much so that his brothers and sisters teased him by calling him Mother’s Pride and Sunblest. My dad was good at maths, where his sisters all struggled and so he’d do their homework for them. “No-one got it right but Brenda Barron’s brother” my Aunt’s maths teacher used to despair. Through my dad, two of my aunts (Hannah and Brenda) met their husbands, church friends and motorbike companions of my father who he brought home and who have been part of the family ever since.
Although my father was raised right in the heart of Belfast, at least until the family were evacuated to the Antrim Coast after the blitz, he loved the Irish countryside—the dry stone walls of the Mournes, the drumlins and small ports of County Down, the lakes of Fermanagh, the beaches of Ballycastle the Glens of Antrim, and the gorse and heather of Donegal. We have many of his paintings and pastels of these much loved places—pictures he told us to be sure to share with all of you. We hope that if you’d like to have one, you will be sure to let us know—it is how he would like to be remembered.
My dad was drawing up until just a few weeks ago—pictures of boats he’d seen on the beaches of Bridlington and Flamborough in Yorkshire when he was over staying with Anne. He liked to visit Anne because she’s a good cook—she’s the one who gave him the recipe for his famous seafood chowder—and because she throws parties at Christmas and Halloween and in fact just about any other time. He really enjoyed the social life in Mirfield and appreciated it more and more as some of his Belfast friends found it hard to keep up with him, and his appetite at lunchtime.
From his first apprenticeship on the shop floor at Harland and Wolff my dad was selected to join the draftsman’s office and given the chance to use his technical drawing skills. He then moved to the Electricity board, later NIE, where he enjoyed a successful career in purchasing and supplies and made many lifelong friends. I only remember him being sick and staying home one time, and the change in the natural order of things was frightening. He took the day off to take us on a picnic once. It was the day Danesfort was bombed. He went into work. He went to work during the Ulster Workers Strike too, driving across the picket line. We wanted to use the strike and the power cuts as an excuse not to do homework. He wasn’t having it.
He was due to visit me in October 2001, my first autumn in Washington DC and just a month after 9/11 when everyone was scared to fly. It was no surprise to see my dad resolute on the tarmac.
My father was a founding member of the Alliance Party, a founding member of the Pastel Society of Ireland and, after he finished work, a dedicated champion of the Workers Education Association. He was very proud of the opportunities he received at the shipyard, but always regretted that the war pretty much deprived him of a further education. He wanted to make sure other people could always catch up on their learning. As part of a training program at Danesfort a fancy new executive education guy from their new, private, English owner suggested Dad might like to go to an advanced management program at Harvard. Then he found out Dad was nearly 60 and about to retire so the offer evaporated. He would have loved to go.
My father was proud to be a member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, now the Institution of Engineering and Technology and when I lived in London always used to suggest I went to their lectures in their very grand building close to the Savoy. I never went. I once gave a speech at the Royal Institution where the annual Faraday lecture for children was always recorded. We were always made to watch It was some consolation to my father that I had stood behind the same lectern as some of the country’s best scientists and engineers, but unfortunately my speech was about daytime TV, something he found an unnecessary distraction from the pleasures of monitoring his stocks and shares on Ceefax. In the off-season for the Faraday lecture—you call it summer—we went on weekend trips to visit power stations and sometimes substations. We have snaps of all these installations at home—come round any time.
During our teenage years, WM was an enthusiastic radio amateur and later filled the back room, indeed the whole house, with computers and laptops and ipads and their constituent parts. Most people get their computer mended by acned youths but my father was a one-man geriatric Genius Bar, always happy to replace a motherboard, endlessly frustrated that we couldn’t find our installation disks. He was also a huge fan of Formula One and the only time he couldn’t find time to talk to one of us on the phone on Sundays was when the race was on. “They’re only started—could you call me back” he’d say, sitting in his chair in the living room with the curtains closed against the sun.
My dad liked being a granddad. He didn’t seem to mind sticky fingers as much when they belonged to Anne and Paul’s children Sarah and Joe or Peter and Julia’s George, Martha and Luke. My children Star and Tony didn’t have a chance to know him before they came to me when they were 9 and 12. When he was first coming to America to see us all, I asked them if they wanted to call him Grandad, like the others did. They weren’t sure. When he arrived, they heard me call him Father (I was in a Pride and Prejudice phase) and decided to adopt the title, having had no opportunity to use it before. It is not every 70 year old Irish man who can cope with being called Father by two black children he has only just met, but Dad took it in stride and always signed his presents and cards that way. It meant a great deal to me and to them.
My father was proud of each of us to the same degree his mother had been proud of him. Not that he would say this to any of us directly, but he would always tell me how capable and well organized Anne was, and make sure to fill me in when Peter popped up on the radio or tv or in the newspapers. I habitually rolled my eyes. They got equally sick of listening to him talk about me. I am sure you all had to endure a lot of this—I hope we don’t all turn out to be a disappointment in the flesh.
Another of WM’s adages when he thought someone was overreacting or making an unnecessary fuss: “It’ll all be the same in a thousand years”—his way of saying that very little really matters or makes a difference in the end. Perhaps that’s true, but for all of us, it feels very much as though his 84 years did really matter and will have a lasting impact. Thank you for standing with us today.