Last month a quiet man with much influence was buried.
Joe Reilly, the husband of the indomnitable Clara, passed away suddenly. He had been her boyfriend, husband, partner, counsel and support for over 56 years.
As their five sons and one daughter lifted his coffin past their assembled grandchildren and great grandchildren, it was clear that theirs is a legacy of love, strength, generosity and example.
Among the assembled mourners to come to the wake house and attend the funeral were the combined Reilly, Burns and Reid clanns. A bit like a gathering in ancient Celtic times, only very modern. This is a family that came through our conflict with hearts of gold and spines of steel. Having suffered heavily themselves, they supported and defended those most in need. And not always in the most obvious or heralded of ways.
Our family is blessed with close friends. Clara Reilly is at the heart of that and is my adopted Belfast mother. She is known for her extraordinary defence of those harmed during our conflict. Behind her and beside her all of that time was Joe. That is in no way to downplay his role in his own right and his own legacy.
Joe was the hero we need in quiet places, yet are hard to find. Joe fought the demon of alcoholism and knew what it was like to be vulnerable yet find an inner strength. In RFJ we have had many people bereaved by our conflict quietly tell us that Joe Reilly saved their lives in dark days.
It is testimony to Joe’s family that they instructed Monsignor Raymond Murray at the funeral to mention his alcoholism. How he battled, overcame it, founded a branch of Alcoholics Anonymous and supported without judgement hundreds of others who faced the same battle. They did not hide from that journey and are rightly proud of Joe. Clara hoped those in despair might be offered hope.
The Joe I knew was the Joe laughing, waiting for his grandchildren to arrive to the house. He defined family man and his children are a credit to his counsel, wisdom, fun and love.
There is a tale from St James about a big nits expedition, involving combs, wet hair and vinegar. Joe sitting searching for nits on the heads of many children while the women folk got on with singing Tina Turner songs. A quiet man who knew how to keep women happy and get a job done. Rare indeed.
Thursday nights were stew night in their house –the Lord himself could not have performed as great a miracle with loaves and fishes as Clara and Joe performed with steak pieces, carrots and spuds. One Thursday I was sitting and saw Joe adding the secret ingredient –instant gravy granules – to the stew. My stews were greatly enhanced since that day.
As he left the chapel to the beautiful refrain of the West’s Awake I was aware of how privileged I had been to know this great man.