Dr. Hugh: man of many parts

Dr. Hugh Gibbons was buried in historic Kilronan Cemetery on Saturday afternoon as the rain came slanting across from Lough Meelagh.    I remember an RTE programme of the Doctor’s friend Micheal O’Callaghan called ‘My Own Place’ which outlined Micheal’s dedication to his native County Roscommon.    This dedication, to his native county, was also very true of Dr. Hugh Gibbons. From his birthplace at Ballybeg near Strokestown to Brideswell (in Gerry O’Malley’s family home) and Boyle where he was a ‘locum’ doctor and sixty years in Keadue and North Roscommon he was the man of and for the people.    He was a great community man with a range of interests and commitments now inherited by his family. He was chairman of the iconic O’Carolan Festival for many years and if necessary would sweep the hall floors after an event. He was a man to give of his time generously as he did to me on occasion. He was a humble man with no airs and graces, a doctor ‘without the hat’ as Canon Lavin observed of the first encounter of a lifetime’s friendship. His funeral represented the wide range of his interests and that of his family.   In Keadue’s lovely church of ‘The Nativity of Our Lady’, which for the second time in a week was overflowing this was the celebration of a long and full life, a life of achievement in family, in profession, with the Keadue community, in sport and in politics.    The main celebrant at his funeral Mass, Bishop Colm O’Reilly encapsulated this full life in a few telling sentences. Canon Peadar Lavin from Ballyfarnon, one of the trinity of villages which make up this North Roscommon community, spoke of the humanity of the man and the respect he had for others as demonstrated when they first met on a Ballyfarnon Street sixty years ago. He referred to the reassurance he brought to many a house who called on him as their doctor in time of need. The Canon talked of his stature as a footballer and his role with St. Ronans.    One telling reference was the tale of a dedicated Fine Gael supporter annoyed that he had gone into politics with Fianna Fail because: ‘Now I’ll have to vote for him and Fianna Fail’.   The Canon referred to him as; ‘our lantern’ and ended his tribute on behalf of Arigna, Keadue, and Ballyfarnon by bidding ‘farewell to a great friend we will never forget’.    His son Brian talked of the fairly small compact region that encapsulated his father’s life and of his pride in the beauty of his own place, an equal to Killarney. Luke Gibbons remembered his father in a short tribute of anecdote and feeling.   The chief celebrant was the Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, Bishop Colm O’ Reilly assisted by Canon Peader Lavin and the local parish priest of Keadue Father Sam Holmes with over a dozen other members of the clergy including Canon Paddy Murray brother of Jimmy Murray. The local choir enriched the liturgy as did the traditional music of Morris Martin, Tommy Guihan, Eileen McGowan, Mae Harte and Declan Noone. There was a wide and representative gathering at the funeral.    The President of Ireland was represented by her Aide-de-Camp, Capt. Niamh O’Mahoney (daughter of John) and The Taoiseach by his Aide-de-Camp, Capt. Mick Tracey. Among those I saw present on Saturday were: Finance Minister, Brian Cowen, TDs Michael Finneran, Noel Treacy and Frank Feighan with Senators Terry Leyden and John Ellis and Councillors John Cummins, Rachael Doherty, Eugene Murphy, Paddy Kilduff. There was a Fianna Fail Guard of Honour as the cortege moved away from the Church on Saturday as the GAA had done on the reception of the remains at the Church on Friday evening.   Two of Dr. Hugh’s colleagues of the Roscommon team of the forties, Brendan Lynch and John Joe Nerney were present as was Commandant-General Paraic O’Callaghan (son of J.P.). Former Roscommon football Captain Tony Regan, of the U.C.G. sport department, was present mindful of Dr. Hugh’s outstanding record with the College as a Sigerson player during his time there as a medical student in the thirties.   So the lovely village of Keadue has lost ‘its lantern’ of many years and an era ends with the death of its and the people of Kironan’s great servant, Dr. Hugh Gibbons.   Ni bheid a leitheid aris ann.   Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.