‘The Last Post’ was played in honour of a man who did his family, his community and his country some service during a life well lived, albeit one sadly cut short.
The hundreds who made their way to Saint Nicholas’s Church that morning had walked across Dillon Bridge to honour John Stuart, a man who was, in life, a true community servant.
This was a man, as Father Richard Geoghegan mentioned during a wonderful sermon, who found “no” a word impossible to utter.
No job was too big or small for John. All you had to do was ask and he was there, with a shoulder to the wheel, a foot to the pump, a most willing spirit until the very moment of his shock passing.
John, who hailed from Skough in South Kilkenny, possessed a singing voice to match his frame – powerful, booming and fulsome.
And it was through Carrick Musical Society that dozens upon dozens of us came to know and love him. Nights in the Strand without him shall be all the emptier in his absence, as will the wry comments on John’s powers of punctuality!
I will think of no-one but John whenever the strains of ‘Carrickfergus’ are lilted within earshot; the same applies to ‘Night of a Thousand Stars’ from ‘Evita’, a song he sang in many a theatre around this region.
John was a man that countless folk met on Carrick’s Main Street down through the years – and he was never a person you merely said ‘hello’ to en route to somewhere else.
You stopped, he stopped and a chat was had – it could be five minutes or 25, but the enjoyment of the conversation was always mutual. John was a real ‘people person’. He had a genuine and sincere interest in everyone he befriended.
And be it in between songs in the Strand, a sociable in the Kickham Inn or the many military functions he attended, a laugh was always had. For John Stuart was great company: a bona fide entertainer and blackguard of the highest order, but in the nicest possible sense.
The Defence Forces played a huge role in John’s life. From the day he first entered military ranks back in 1966 and despite officially retiring in 1988, the Navy and the Army remained daily players on his agenda.
As sectetary of the Clonmel branch of the National Organisation of Ex-Servicemen and Women (ONET), John remained in touch with many of his colleagues, running up thousands of miles in his car travelling to functions, Masses and funerals.
Many of John’s colleagues, for whom he cooked at Clonmel’s Kickham Barracks, donned their berets on Sunday and marched to his graveside.
The ceremonial element of his Funeral Mass would have pleased John immensely, befitting a man who swore by the uniform and loved the stage.
That it was an occasion filled with song would also have kept a smile creased across his face. In the cemetery, ‘The Rose of Mooncoin’ was sung proudly by the Suir Valley Choir and the Musical Society, two groups that John also played such a significant part in.
Some generic platitudes are offered at funerals, particularly on those occasions when the officiating priest doesn’t know the deceased personally.
Father Geoghegan, a great friend of both John and his wife Kathleen, spoke for all when he addressed the congregation on Sunday last. For his were words which came from the heart, words which resonated to all who heard them, words greeted with merited applause come sermon’s end.
I stumbled upon the following words as I queried how best to conclude my own salute to John Stuart, a truly magnificent man.
“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.”
Rest well, John. It was a pleasure to know you. You shall never be forgotten.