Kelly Ryan’s Wake

It remained a matter of conjecture and debate about the exact mood the Almighty God was in the day Kelly Ryan died. He had been struck by struck by a thunderbolt as he walked into the Coonamurra showground to check his horses. It’s possible there was a Divine message hidden in this very act and those who loved Kelly wondered if his passion for the gee gees had gone too far and he should have stayed with doctoring even after his retirement. Perhaps he should have been at worship, for it was the Sabbath and he was known for the occasional lapse. Though he was much admired as the town doctor, he had his faults they all agreed. But not many.

Dr Ryan was there for birth or death, 24/7, he was perpetually on call. He presided over the birthing suite and the departure lounge and he had earned the worship of that small community. Truly good men are hard to find. What people admired as virtue Kelly Ryan enacted. So it seemed unfair to take him out so shockingly. Only his wife understood that Ryan would have been delighted. He was a man of many theories with a fierce, prodigious mind and a great dollop of pure Celtic superstition. One of his more bizarre theories remained an enduring preoccupation with electromagnetic fields and the human body. Indeed he would be proved right in his suppositions but time had yet to catch up with him.

Madge Ryan took her husband’s death deep and hard, though she had an unnatural faith in the Divine she soon abandoned it in the face of such a venomous act. Not the manner of his death but the matter of his death. She had booked herself across the Great Divide before him and it was sheer malice to leave her stranded. Their five children were devastated. Kelly Ryan has more mates than a sperm whale. He had roamed the country in his youth, and the internet in his retirement. Those who met him fell hard for his Irish charm and his endless entertaining stories. And, of course, the whiskey. With the funeral notice in town and country newspapers came an extraordinary number of people who had met him, been doctored, birthed, played the horses, been part time priests, practicing shamans or well known prostitutes. Ryan always had a calling for the marginalized. And now they badly wanted to redeem their debt to a good man gone down to death far too soon and too strangely.

Madge coped with the passing parade for two days and then went to bed and left all the proceedings to her children. It was not a simple funeral. No less than nine priests needed to participate in the service. The nuns nodded approvingly. A good man needed many priests at his funeral although Ryan himself would have laughed at this notion, and said a truly bad man needed more.

An Irish Catholic funeral is good theatre at the worst of times and Ryan’s best mate was a priest who’s name was Jim. Priests are funny fish but Father Jim had heard the call late in life and had no lack of life experience. Not a whole lot shocked him.

Jim thought he might know why Madge Ryan had taken to her bed with such a vengeance. The Ryan family clan were complex and divisive and all five children came home for their father’s funeral. Kelly and Madge had produced a seething morass of unusual progeny. The eldest daughter Tara was quite sufficient in herself. And then there was Erin, Rosanna, Eamon and Kelly Ryan Junior. When all the children had arrived with all the welcome and unwelcome guests the Ryan family home was bursting at its seams. Tents had been constructed in the garden and still the mourners flowed in. There would be an abnormal level of argument, Ryan senior had loved a good fight, any form of a verbal blue and a brawl. Tribute would have to be paid to this long family tradition. There also had to be some fisticuffs, for pugilism was part of a long genetic inheritance. As was serious intellectual debate.

Tara Ryan was in a terrible mood. Her father had no right to die. She hadn’t finished a long ongoing argument about the nature of patriarchy and capitalism, apart from other things. Erin on the other hand had needed to fly back home from London and arrived bedraggled and exhausted and absolutely beside herself. Eamon rang through. At first he said he wouldn’t come to his father’s funeral. He hadn’t quite finished a long and complex set of theological disquisitions about the nature of the Divine. He wasn’t at all sure he had won the argument. In all conscience, he had said to his sister, he couldn’t attend a religious service in a church. Kelly Junior was a practicing Buddhist and had no real problem with any kind of service. Madge Ryan stayed in her bed. When Eamon finally relented he came with Ryan clan’s one and only grandchild. To Madge, this was the only positive event in the whole shennanigans. Eamon had denied paternity in every and which way, but the child appeared to be the spitting image of his father. Kelly Ryan’s gene’s had been perpetuated. And there was reason to believe that there might be something in Divine providence after all.

It took four days to organize the actual funeral service; the priests bickered and quarreled in a rather unnerving way while the nuns stood by watching with malicious amusement. Father Jim won the contest hands down, he had been Kelly’s friend since they were youths. Meanwhile the drinking was predictably outrageous, and an endless supply of food moved in and out of the house.

When Tara Ryan finally got the funeral organized to her satisfaction everyone agreed that it would be a good show. Madge came out of her bedroom holding the baby and listened to the intricate preparations. She nodded twice and then she returned to her bedroom. The children believed that they had done well for their mother was rather sparing with her approval. And in retrospect it seemed she had good reasons. Where as Kelly had been tolerant to a fault of his children’s misdemeanors, Madge Ryan had standards. Those standards had been systematically destroyed by each successive child.

Tara had refused to marry, under any circumstances, as had Eamon and Rosanna and Kelly Junior. Erin had decided that she really was partly destined for sainthood. She hung around, in a most unflattering way, with the various political factions of the Vatican in Rome. That is, when she was not working as a superb dominatrix in high society in London. Her mother had suspected something of this sort but only her father really knew what went on in her life.

The day of the funeral dawned brilliantly as funeral days do. The nine priests were all arrayed, the casket was solid oak, the children were well dressed and the mourners numbered many. Madge had reason for hope. She really should have known better. But she was deeply preoccupied with grief and her normal good sense has deserted her. She had quite forgotten that when the children all got together there was almost a dead certainty that outrageous things would happen. Funerals were no barrier to the Ryan predilection for shocking a captive audience. All of them had been involved in performance, even Rosanna, who was perhaps the most reasonable child the Ryan’s had produced.

The service began at ten and the guests began to arrive at nine and there were no floral tributes by order of Kelly himself who had ordained that in the event of death all proceeds should be donated to the pediatric ward at the local hospital. Consequently the beautiful coffin looked somewhat undressed covered with some wattle blossom, a couple of photographs, a TAB guide and a rather odd pair of sunglasses. Madge Ryan looked at the coffin of her husband and had a premonition that perhaps all would not go according to plan. Father Jim was looking positively anxious. In his passionate desire to win the contest to bury his old friend, he had forgotten the Ryan clans’ obsession with extreme behaviour at any public function. He looked at the other priests rather gloomily. The nuns were positively gleaming. Madge sat herself down with the baby in her arms and the children beside her. She was prepared for the inevitable public outrage. Father Jim began the predictable eulogy about Ryan Kelly’s life. So far all was going well. Madge’s brother gave another pleasant homily; he was charming and witty. He loved Ryan as only a brother in law could. Then of course it was time for the children to begin.

Tara Ryan knew how to rise to an occasion. She had experienced a lot of occasions in her life, all of them unusual. Dressed in somber black and unaware that her tattooed arms and her body piercings may have been inappropriate for the occasion, she took to the pulpit with élan. Madge was somewhat surprised at the sobriety of Tara’s speech. She supposed that her daughter was not prepared to co-opt her father’s funeral for her own purposes. The eulogy was quite powerful. And it failed to engage in any difficult political arguments. Ryan Kelly’s wife sighed. She looked at the coffin that held the body of her dearly beloved and thought perhaps they might get through. The baby cuddled into her, she wished once again that the lightning had struck somebody else. The audience were attentive, the service complete with every thing that Kelly would have desired, including a completely offensive country and western song, which was probably not in accord with the solemnity of the occasion. It all seemed to be going well. When Eamon got up to deliver his eulogy Madge sighed. If there was going to be trouble, it would be with him. But he surprised her, he said little of their long theological struggles and spoke of a father that he had loved and honored as a small child. He did decide to own paternity of his own baby and this caused quite a shock. The nuns stopped gleaming. It is possible that a funeral is the wrong place to produce DNA certificates to prove that paternity, and have them passed around the church, but in general the audience took it well. It was then time for Erin to perform. Madge conceded that she looked the part. It was fortuitous that Erin did not explore the eccentricities of her own sexuality at her father’s funeral as it was unclear how the priesthood would cope. Erin chose to stay on a familiar path. Even Father Jim was notable in his relief. The other old priests slept and hummed and snored. Ryan Junior took the stage next. He proceeded to belabour his audience about the virtues of Buddhism; and the reincarnational possibilities for his father. Some of this was detailed information and he elaborated about Kelly being reborn as a cockroach or a white moth. The combined catholic clergy resigned themselves to the inevitable spiritual competition.

The finale was left to Rosanna. Standing tall, true inheritor of the Irish genes with dark eyes and black hair, flawlessly articulate she launched into a long and passionate speech of the life of her father. It was at the conclusion of this speech that things became interesting. The music changed and an Egyptian melody began to echo from the church eaves. Rosanna began to undulate in a interesting manner all around her fathers coffin, he hair flung from side to side, she looked quite astonishing. Meanwhile Eamon had risen and placed four small candles on the coffin of his father. He began a long shamanic howl based on a Hopi Indian ritual and prowled the stage stamping and crying. Young family could be seen distributing what could only be seditious magazines to the assembled congregation. Tara rose, took to the stage and called upon the Great Goddess, Father Jim tried to take control but the noise level was truly horrific. Erin then moved into the center. She had prepared for this for quite some time using her small, very special flagellation whip she began to lash herself in the most outrageous manner. An old nun fainted. The assembled priests tittered and dithered and began to converse between themselves. Father Jim gave up. Madge sat back and watched, the baby giggled and laughed in her arms. Erin who had carefully concealed fake blood patches on her body began to look like something out of the crucifixion as the blood flowed freely. Old drunks in the audience thought seriously about repudiating the Devil. Ryan Junior began a monotonic Tibetan chant for the dead. If Kelly Ryan was watching he would have been vastly amused. He had encouraged his children to become free thinkers above all. Madge watched the proceedings with resignation, slightly impressed with the precision with which her children had organized this spectacle. She wished Father Jim would stop interjecting. He really didn’t understand the narrative of her children’s performance. The congregation began to moan and wail unsure of how they should react to such an event, unclear whether it was in Kelly’s honour or in some way disrespectful. It wasn’t until the bedraggled wattle caught fire on the lid of the coffin that Father Jim managed to restore order. The children gathered together bowed, waved to the audience and then returned to their seats.

Kelly Ryan’s funeral would be spoken about for years; the residents of Connamurra had never seen any thing like it and never would again. The jaded guests from the cities would dine out for months sometimes embellishing the details of the event. Old drunks and ex-prostitutes admitted to yearning for a similar type of farewell. But such things were hard to repeat. The Ryan children knew enough about theatre to ever attempt to repeat this spectacle.

By the time they got Ryan Kelly’s casket in the ground the service had taken over three hours. Most of the guests were emotionally drained and physically exhausted. Returning to the family home where the feast was laid and the candles lit conversation reached new heights of debate even in that very articulate household. The pros and cons of the event were discussed endlessly, the almighty was invoked to forgive; the devil was called on to be cast out of the children. Father Jim cracked the seal on his mate’s best bottle of whiskey. Fortunately there was plenty of drink and plenty of food at the wake and between the drink and the debate about the experience it wasn’t very long before fisticuffs broke out. Eamon proved his worth once again and settled most of these disputes with a brilliant right hand hook that he had learned from his father. Bodies were dragged out and left in the garden. The drunks were happy and the prostitutes met new clients. Shamans entered into vigorous debates with priests, and women began discussing the great Goddess. Tara was very pleased and Erin was surrounded by a veritable court full of men. They were, not surprisingly, impressed with her performance. Various arrangements were made. Rosanna sat calmly with her mother handing her tea occasionally and making sure she ate; the baby gurgled, happy and contented, as he chewed on a copy of his own DNA Certificate. Genteel ladies and nuns departed the wake early. Such people are very experienced in the calamities that can attend upon a good wake after an interesting funeral. The old priests drank whiskey and munched toothlessly away. Father Jim had taken to the drink with a vengance, he saluted his old mate time and time again exhorting all guests to help him lay the spirit of his friend to rest.

Madge sat in the front parlor busy with discussion about her dead husband with any number of strange creatures. Although she had known that Kelly had a lot of friends, some of who were quite unsavory, she was becoming interested in their life stories. She was unlikely to forgive her husband for preceding her to the Almighty and she was even less likely to take the Almighty on faith again. As the drink took hold various guests collapsed in sobbing heaps, others begin to laugh hysterically. Rosanna was called upon to perform her belly dancing and it wasn’t very long before full scale mayhem and chaos reigned. From long experience Madge knew the party would endure into the wee small hours of the morning. She was very tired and so was the baby. Making a careful but discreet exit she took once again to her bedroom. The party raged on around her but Madge Ryan slept like the dead.

The next day the house had to be cleaned from top to bottom, but this was normal operating procedure after a Ryan Kelly Party. It was about five days before Madge spoke to her children about the nature of events at the funeral. They all looked shocked when she suggested that it hadn’t been quite the thing. They all replied that they had discussed this event in great detail with her. Madge looked at each and every one of them. Although her children were unconventional she could never call them liars. It occurred to her that she hadn’t really been listening when they had been discussing their preparations, that she had indeed been occupied with baby Ryan. Its possible that she really didn’t want to know anything about either the funeral or Kelly’s death, she supposed she had only herself to blame.

The children decided that their mother should not be left too long in solitude. She may decide to pop off so Eamon returned home with his child and his partner. Ryan Junior began a practicing Buddhist retreat in the back garden shed. Erin decided that instead of being a dominatrix she might study medicine, and Tara completed her Phd and became a lecturer at a well known university. Of all the children Rosanna, who appeared to be the most reasonable, began a passionate crusade to save the homeless, the youths, the prostitutes, the shamans, the drunks, the eccentrics and all the other riff raff of life from a variety of ugly fates. She became a renowned lawyer and eventually a QC. Her father’s life never failed to influence her.

Madge Ryan lived on for another fifteen years. Her dying request was that she too would have an equally interesting funeral. However she refused to have either nuns or priest, with the exception of Father Jim at the service. It is a matter of public record in Coonamurra that Madge Ryan’s funeral was almost as good as her husbands. For as the children carried the casket out towards the waiting hearse, the skies thundered and lightning struck, missing the coffin by inches and sizzling the ground for a good three feet all around. It seemed possible that Madge was communicating with the Almighty again.

Kate McNamara

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