Funeral Speech

17:45 Sun 22 Jun 2008. Updated: 04:50 10 Jul 2012
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For anyone who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it, here’s the speech I gave at my father’s funeral yesterday.

Recording: MP3 Audio

This isn’t a transcript, but the speech I was reading from:

Thank you all for coming here to mark the passing of my father, Edward O’Higgins, and to honor his life and his memory.

The sad, tragic truth is that his death is a terrible thing. The cancer that took his life did so before he reached his 70th birthday, barely into his retirement, and that is an awful thing. He was always so healthy, and took such good care of himself, it’s dreadful for him to not have had more years than he got, and for us to lose him far earlier than we should have.

But we were also lucky to have known him, to have had him in our lives. The life he lived was a very rich one, spanning two continents and many disciplines. He was an accomplished engineer, father, teacher, writer, scholar. While a private, often quiet person, he was also very friendly and open-minded, and had a great dry sense of humor.

He was born in and grew up in Athy, County Kildare, brought up with his sister Olive by his parents James and Kathleen. He attended University College Dublin, where he received a degree in Electrical Engineering. Thereafter he moved to America, settling in New York.

The scope of what he did in New York is difficult to summarize, including as it did engineering work, running a theater company, participating in the Irish cultural revival, meeting and marrying his wife of thirty-five years Halina, being active in the Irish civil rights movement, starting a family, obtaining first a masters and then a doctorate in Anthropology from the New School, and even a brief stint as that most honored of New York professions, a taxi driver.

One of my strongest memories from New York is of my father bringing me across the Bronx River, which ran through Bronx Park not far from where we lived. It was a beautiful summer day, and we were by a small waterfall. Right at the top of the waterfall was line of concrete higher than the river bed, so that just before it dropped the water was only a couple of inches deep, instead of a couple of feet. I would have been fairly young, five or six. I don’t remember if it was my idea or Dad’s, but we walked across the top of the waterfall on that concrete. Against the objections of my mother, I should add. We made it there and back safely, and I’ll always remember holding Dad’s hand as we walked on the concrete, deeper water on one side and thin air on the other.

In Dublin, Dad established himself as an electrical engineer with the Dublin Corporation, working there for over twenty years. He and Mom had Niall, bought a house, and raised us both. Dad always provided what we needed, and was extremely supportive of our efforts in whatever we did. It’s no small achievement to have a family and to put two sons through college, and we’re incredibly lucky that he was so dedicated to us.

What I think stood out most about Dad, though, was his interest in learning and scholarship of all kinds. He read a tremendous amount, in a wide variety of fields—one of the things I remember first from childhood is books. Lots and lots of books in our apartment, lots and lots of books in our house. Books about almost anything. Dad had a strong grasp of the classics, but ranged far from them—range evident in his having a degree in engineering and a doctorate in anthropology. Along with his obvious intellectual curiosity was a focus on the truth and a rigorous approach to inquiry, and crucially a dedication to free thinking. He always thought for himself, and wasn’t at all interested in having anyone else tell him how to do that. His passion for intellectual freedom and independence was a defining characteristic, expressed both loudly and quietly at various times in his life, but always present. His determination to learn from others while not letting anyone do his thinking for him was and is a profound influence on my life, and something I will do my best to honor.

I’d like to end with a Walt Whitman poem, because it’s appropriate and because it’s the last poem that Dad and I discussed:

Spirit That Form’d This Scene

Spirit that form’d this scene,
These tumbled rock-piles grim and red,
These reckless heaven-ambitious peaks,
These gorges, turbulent-clear streams, this naked freshness,
These formless wild arrays, for reason of their own,
I know thee, savage spirit—we have communed together,
Mine too such wild arrays, for reasons of their own;
Was’t charged against my chants they had forgotten art?
To fuse within themselves its rules precise and delicatesse?
The lyrist’s measur’d beat, the wrought-out temple’s grace—column
    and polish’d arch forgot?
But thou that revelest here—spirit that form’d this scene,
They have remember’d thee.

—Walt Whitman. (Written in Platte Canyon, Colorado)

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2 Responses to “Funeral Speech”

  1. Francis Potter Says:

    Hi Tadhg, I’m sorry to hear you lost your father this year. It’s funny, actually, I was just thinking about my father, who died 14 years ago yesterday, when I came across your blog and read this. Thanks for sharing, and I hope your holiday season is filled with spirit and new kinds of light.



  2. Graham Says:

    very moved

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