Since my father died in 1995, I have not often been back to Ireland, in fact only in 2004, and again about eighteen months ago. The north Antrim coast, from whence I come, is not on the way to anywhere; it is about as far as one can get from civilisation, unless one is sailing north to remote Scotland, the Faroe Islands or Iceland. And once landed at Belfast airport, there awaits an hourly bus service to Antrim and an hourly train to Coleraine, both of which I always seem to manage to miss by no more than five minutes.
But when I step foot back on Irish soil, all the frustrations and aggravations of modern travel and living seem to evaporate, and I completely relax; I am once more 18 and on my way home again.
I met my brother the next morning at my hotel, and we headed off to the graveyard; I was anxious to visit the grave of an old friend, George. We worked together in Coleraine in the mid-1960s. He migrated to Toronto in 1965, together with his fiancée, Eileen. They wanted to marry, but being of mixed religions, migration was their perceived solution. George had a cousin in Toronto, and soon after they arrived, George and Eileen were married. As crazy as it may seem today, that was the experience of many young Irish couples in that era.
I followed soon after George and Eileen, and spent a few weeks sleeping on their living room floor. None of us had much money and my contribution to the household was much welcomed. Eventually I moved in with five other guys, at 345 Eglinton Ave West – Howard Abrahams, Michael Goldberg, Robin Jackson, Bill Stott and a Canadian, Gordie. I am still in touch with Howard and Michael; Robin died a long time ago in South Africa; with the other two I have had no further contact, although I was once told that Bill did end up as the global boss of Hallmark Cards,
George worked as an estimator for a construction company – Pigott Construction, and later, he introduced me to his boss, who offered me a job, which I accepted. Outside of work, I saw little of George socially; he was a settled suburban husband and I was a lad-about-town, playing rugby, football and partying.
Before I left for Australia in 1971, I last saw George and Eileen. At that time, they had a little girl. They seemed to be very happy and very much in love. That was our last contact.
After I had a stroke in late-2005, it took some time, perhaps 2-3 years, for me to realize that my memory had not completely recovered. I stumbled upon my own method of revitalising it – one day I may write of that difficult period of my life, and in so doing, I tried to find George. Telephone directories, linkedin.com, facebook.com, internet etc. – there was no footprint. I eventually dismissed him as being as a ‘Luddite’, resistant to new technology.
Until my good friend and genealogist, Norman Calvin, found him for me, or rather, found his sister. And there I was, with my brother, looking for George’s grave. It was no wonder that I had not been able to find him. He came upon hard times in Toronto. He lost his job, divorced and lost his family. He eventually returned to Coleraine, but his situation did not improve. On 25 November 2005 he died, a broken man. On that day, I was fighting for my life in an intensive care ward of a hospital in Stockholm.
But where was his grave? I had a rough idea where it was, but there were so many. We split up, one each side of a path. We walked up and down the rows, until I was on the point of giving up and getting more precise directions. I distinctly remember saying out loud, ‘George, where are you’, when, in that instant, my brother shouted, ‘Over here’.
It was another of the many co-incidences in my life.