Although I didn’t plan it, I was in Ireland for Nodlaig’s Month’s Mind. I wouldn’t have known about this custom, a requiem mass held for someone a month after their death. Nodlaig’s was at her church in Broadford. I had never been in the church. Even though she was married to a Protestant (my cousin Charlie) she would have thought it odd or even pandering if I had offered to take her to a Sunday service, and at any rate when she lived in the cottage she could mostly drive herself there. Once she was in Sancta Maria, the nursing home where she lived for the last five years of her life, mass came to her. I was visiting on more than one occasion when the priest walked into the main reception room, greeting everyone quickly as he walked around the perimeter of the room past each resident. His presence was my signal to leave; walking out, I would hear the mumble of the rosary, said so quickly and with such rote that the words had long since lost their shape and become instead a compelling murmur.
Broadford Church matches the standard of Irish Catholic country churches. Set back from the road, these buildings rise from a cold sea of concrete and are dressed in grey stone that rain makes nearly black. Stern, cold and unadorned, these large steep-roofed edifices invite penitence; the most optimistic church-goers must feel weighted down sin by the time they arrive at the front door after crossing so much hardscape. The Church of Ireland churches, by contrast, seem almost jolly, couched as they are in small grassy enclosures with their worn round stone walls, their red wooden doors and their humble bulk, fitting for a population of Protestants that is well under 5% of the country.
Inside the church the colors are bright, almost vulgar, with an odd three-D depiction of the Last Supper that glowed from some inner lights. Nodlaig’s name was written in the Mass bulletin and spoken several times throughout the service by the priest. His homily was a thoughtful sermon about the Good Samaritan; Ann told me afterwards that it was more fitting for Nodlaig than the sermon on the day of her funeral. Throughout the service I pictured Nodlaig there, reciting the various creeds and beliefs (‘through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault’). As I sat and stood and kneeled and followed the service as best I could, I realized how grateful I was to be there, in the midst of her family, to think about her and especially to grieve.
When we left the church the rain was coming down in buckets. A small contingent made its way to her grave before heading to lunch. Nodliag is buried at Ballinadrimna along with her husband and many generations of my family. The plot is small, surrounded by a fence; the names of the dead are listed in a long line on two stones. Nodlaig’s name isn’t there yet. It will be the final name on the second stone, under Charlie’s. The end of an era, many people said when she died, and it does seem that way.