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Irish Eyes

By Mattie Lennon

Cash from Ashes

“Man, when he burns, leaves only a handful of ashes. No woman can hold him . . .”
(Tennessee Williams)

A celebrity hit the headlines recently when he stated publicly that he had snorted his father’s ashes. He gained further publicity when he denied it. Jokes about spilled urns are legion but how many people think about the commercial side of it? I know I didn’t until about a year ago.

It was the Friday of Writer’s Week 2006. I was walking up William Street, Listowel, minding my own business when I was accosted by one William Joseph Keane, (AKA Billy Keane) publican, journalist, author, raconteur, comedian and entrepreneur.

After I had congratulated him on the publication of Moss Keane, The Last of The Heroes and his most erudite newspaper articles, In The Irish Independent, he said, “Matt” (he always drops the “ie” because he says Matt is the opposite to gloss). “Matt” says he “ you are logical, methodical and mathamathecal and you must have people and survival skills since you have managed to stay on the pay-roll of Dublin Bus for more than thirty years, I have a business proposition for you ”. It turned out that he had come up with the idea of building a crematorium in Lyracrompane and he wanted me to be his business partner. He had even settled on a name for the project, The Pyre in Lyre. In tones more stentorian than soft I set about convincing him that a mobile crematorium would be a better idea (have you ever tried convincing a Keane about anything?)

“Listen” says I, “Kerry has held an almost permanent lease on Croke Park for most of the twentieth century, has a thriving tourist industry since the Famine (if not before it) and now you have Fungie and John O’ Donoghue. You produced Brendan Kennelly, Kitchener and Paudi O’Shea”. (I didn’t, at the time know that they were going to send Micko Dwyer up to Wicklow). “And now” says I “you want to locate the only crematorium outside Dublin in Kerry.”

I did lower my voice on spotting the arrival of Dublin poet Martin Delany. Martin has a, Bronte like, penchant for writing about graveyards and I didn’t want to upset his sensitivities. After all a man who commemorates the faithful departed in iambic parameter mightn’t favour their being reduced to ashes by conflagration. He believes they should spend eternity under a weathered tombstone.

I pointed out to Mr.Keane that although I was familiar with all the writings of his father, the late John B. I couldn’t find any reference in his works to the incineration of the dead. He burned midnight oil writing about wakes, funerals grave digging and other allied activities but not a word about cremation. I asked him where he got the idea for the crematorium from but he was abruptly and conveniently distracted by the arrival of two visiting literary heavyweights. Frank McCourt and Clive James arrived on the scene. (Whatever about the apparel proclaiming the man it doesn’t appear to reveal anything of his background; the man from a rain-sodden Limerick sported an open, short-sleeved, shirt while the affable Aussie wore a buttoned up leather jacket). After their departure I continued with my pitch and I could see that he was weakening and we finished up shaking hands on the partnership.

His parting shot, in true cute-hoor-Kerryman fashion, was “OK, you do the research on it and get back to me”.

When I heard about the hullabaloo about the proposed Poolbeg Incinerator I set the wheels turning straight away by writing to the Department of the Environment to ask what, if any, restrictions and regulations governed the operation of a Mobile crematorium.

While I was waiting for a reply I made some enquiries about the necessary equipment needed for the project, hereinafter referred to as the MC. I found out that in the USA Patent 6729247 has been taken out on aforementioned invention.

The following jargon is used:

“The mobile crematorium comprises: a first combustion chamber, wheels, and a trailer hitch. The deceased remains are then heating in the first combustion chamber to a temperature of at least thereby creating combustion gases and non-combustible materials. The combustion gases are allowed to exit the first combustion chamber and the non-combustible materials are removed and placed in a storage device such as an urn.

The incinerator comprises a first combustion chamber with a first combustion source and a second combustion chamber with a second combustion source. Combustion of the deceased occurs in the combustion chamber. Gases created by the first combustion are further combusted in the second combustion chamber.

It is possible to disguise the MC as a boat, being towed, or as the designer puts it,

“. . . the incinerator provides the visual perception of a ship. . .The flue may be utilized with additional chambers for further combustion or they may be aesthetic.”

I think I have a better idea for this part of the world. Why not use a tractor to tow it and disguise it as a threshing mill? I’m sure P.J. Murrihy wouldn’t object to me writing a bit of a parody on “The Old Thrasing Mill” to use as a jingle.

Further technical tips are given about the construction of the MC:

“Typical insulators comprising oxides of silicon, calcium, and magnesium with lower levels of aluminum and iron oxides are particularly suitable for the present invention.”

After weeks, having not received a reply, I wrote to the Department of Environment again. That’s several months ago and at the time of writing there’s not a word from Dick Roche. Since silence gives consent and there appears to be no restrictions or regulations on the construction and/or operation of a MC the way is clear, apart from getting permission from the inventor and striking a deal with a firm of bodybuilders.

I started kicking around a few ideas about a name; something catchy. Then John Cassidy, a Donegal Undertaker, pointed out to me that funeral directors and those in allied professions, who deal with the departed, do not use trade names, but family names to advertise their business. I told him that I wouldn’t mind having “Mattie Lennon” or even “M.J.Lennon” in foot-high letters on the side of an ice-cream van or the fleet of a Plaster-moulding company but I’d prefer not to have my moniker on something as sombre as a MC vehicle.

“ It doesn’t have to be your own name. Where are you from?” says he.

“Wicklow” says I.

“And what is the most common surname in Wicklow?” says he.

“Byrne”, says I.

“There you have it” says he “C.U.BYRNE”

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Reader Comments

Name: Melinda Carroll (Counties Cork and Kern) Cohenour Email:
Comment: Mattie: Another thoroughly enjoyable missive from my favorite Irish Laddie. Your column is always one of my first reads. Thank you for your devilishly wonderful wit! M



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