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October 27, 2015

More about Joanna McCann

Many thanks to  the dozens of people who sent Mass cards and messages of sympathy on the death of our dear daughter Joanna, and those who travelled long distances to be present at her funeral in Dalkey a week ago yesterday.

The Novus Ordo funeral was very well done, and Fr Declan Gallagher PP deserves our particular gratitude. There were four priests in the sanctuary. The coffin was carried out on the shoulders of husband Johnny, son Stephen aged 15, brother Joe, brother-in-law Maurice, daughter Nikki’s boyfriend Andy and close family friend Dave. It would be an exaggeration to say  there was not a dry eye among the congregation of 400-plus,  but  certainly a fair proportion of them were in tears. Joanna’s body is now in Shanganagh cemetery awaiting the Resurrection.

C.S. Lewis said that grief produces the same symptoms as fear. I haven’t found that: it  just makes me feel tired and listless, which is why I haven’t done any blog posts for 10 days or so.

There were two eulogies, but as they were delivered  after the Mass that was quite acceptable even to a hidebound old trad like me. Here’s one of them, by Joanna’s best friend Alexia Kelly which I think may be appreciated by most:

I have had the privilege of knowing Joanna since we were both seven years old and standing here today, I feel immensely honoured to represent all of her friends who loved her.  I know that I am speaking to so many of you who have their own dear memories of Joanna, a treasure trove of them.  

Joanna was my friend, but I was only one of an abundance of friends in her life, so very very many.  In our class of 48, Joanna was liked universally.  She was one of those very few that everyone got on with.  She could just take up where she left off. Happily reminiscing over school day shenanigans with glee with so many of us at our recent class reunion.

When we were young, we spent lots of innocent wonderful times in each other’s houses.  I have such happy memories of afternoons spent doing arts and crafts in Villarea Park……collecting rocks with Joanna on Killiney beach and painting and varnishing them, to be paper weights and door stops for my own parents.  They were long happy hours in the Lowry home.  A home full of warmth and love and Joanna so loved her parents, brothers Joe and Luke and big sister Paula.

Joanna was funny funny funny.  She was responsible for snorting guffaws in the classroom.  She was a loveable messer and luckily for me, I got to be in her class for almost every subject.  Harmless messing that was so frustrating for our teachers, but never held any malice or meanness, just infectious hilarity.

She was so creative with language, artistic and imaginative. a very talented writer.  I’ve lost count of the number of messages that she has sent me over the years that have literally caused me to crease with laughter.  She had a wonderful sense of the ridiculous.  A witty description that might take some three sentences, Joanna would nail in three words.

As a teenager, Joanna had successfully navigated the worst of the angsty phase and managed to become quite cool, without alienating any of us who still hovered on the fringes, The Pierrot club, Scotts in Dun Laoghaire, a boyfriend with a motorbike!!  I was reminded over the weekend of a group of us schoolgirls warming our backsides on a classroom radiator and Joanna taking out a photo-booth strip of a mullet haired boy, whom she proudly boasted held more than a passing resemblance to a member of Duran Duran.  This was of course Johnny, her best friend and destined to be the love of her life

Joanna often talked to me about how blessed and lucky she was to have married her best friend.  She texted me recently and described how happy she was to still be so happy and in love after 32 years.

We became mothers within eight months of each other.  While most of our friends were enjoying their carefree early 20’s, it felt like we were pretending to be grownups and that some day we’d be found out.  We used to meet up when Nikki and my daughter Sarah were small; we would dress them up, go on little day trips to Powerscourt, take photos and marvel at how clever we were to have produced the most beautiful babies in the world.  And when Stephen came along, we got to do it all again as our youngest were the same age, this time with a little more confidence.  

Joanna was immensely proud of Nikki and Stephen.  She spoke to me often about their progress, her concern but also her confidence in their futures and how she loved them so much.  She would often marvel at their school reports and achievements in areas where she felt she had never excelled…….. We shared a complete bafflement over anything mathematical.

Joanna told me recently that she was so thankful to me for including her in a lunchtime game of ‘Jacks’ one day when we were little….she described herself as the shy child with the dodgy fringe and glasses that no one had asked to join in and I had.  How could she remember it that way when I don’t?  That was typical of her….making me feel really good about myself, telling me how much she loved me.  She was so very generous with her love

Joanna’s laugh was contagious and warm and instinctive.  She found humour in almost every moment of seriousness and when that seriousness became about her illness, she never allowed it to consume her, never wanting to be sad in front of her friends, always finding something to smile about, to chuckle about.  She said recently, “I was really trying to be miserable today but I keep laughing.”

She was truly one of a kind, a source of endless fun, warm hearted, effervescent. She had a wicked irreverent sense of humour, had a great memory and was a wonderful mimic.   She had an incredibly sharp wit – and yet she was never remotely intimidating. She never had any sense that she was better than anyone else. She was warm and generous and put people at their ease; She never excluded anyone. She was always ready to laugh at herself – and always free with compliments for her friends.   You relaxed when she came in to a room.  No need to pretend to be anyone other than yourself, no attitude, no front.

We have each been given a wonderful gift by knowing her.  I, like all of you, will always carry a little piece of Joanna in my heart forever.  

Alexia is a nursing specialist in rheumatology at St Vincent’s Private Hospital, Dublin. She is  the daughter of  the late John Kelly, lawyer, politician and author of the standard work on the Irish Constitution. He had also been a don at Trinity College, Oxford.  I well remember Joanna telling me that  Alexia had announced on their way to school when they were both very small that “Daddy’s been made Eternal General” in Dr Garret Fitzgerald’s government. As Attorney-General, Kelly had a mind of his own, and a good turn of phrase. He defended the wording of the Amendment banning abortion, dismissing the notion that it was constitutionally  flawed as “piddling and perverse”. Like most of us, he could not foresee that the Supreme Court would become corrupted. I have it on  strong authority that when it was decided to attempt to water down the original wording  a furious Kelly referred to the Taoiseach as “that  b******s FitzGerald”.

After the funeral we repaired to the Killiney Castle Hotel for refreshments. I am indebted to my grandson Francis Hand, late of the Irish College in Rome and now at Glasgow University who straightaway said “Grandpa, you need a drink”, and brought me a large Jameson. He actually elicited a guffaw from me when we discussed the hymns at the funeral Mass which were, shall we say, of mixed quality. I like the “Pie Jesu” but can’t stand the Newchurch favourite “On Eagles’ Wings”. Francis treated me to his own version of that:  “I will feeeed  you up, On Chicken Wings!”

I think I may be beginning to get back into my blogging stride…


  1. Remind Eamonn to tell you about his favourite version of that hymn… 😉

  2. Thanks for that wonderful recall of Alexia, Nick, she brought Joanna alive for someone who never me her–Joanna, who might have laughed to read this, comes over as a saintly person, I’m sure those qualities were God’s grace shining through her. Keeping her and all your family in my prayers, Brendan

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