By Charlie Keegan
THE communities of Carlow and Graiguecullen lost one of their best-known and most popular personalities with the passing on Sunday 17 April at St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny of Frank Scully, Green Road, Carlow.
Aged 86, news of Frank’s death was learned of with a palpable sense of intense and sincere loss among all who knew him. Frank, a man of music, was everybody’s friend and his trademark smile is going to be sadly missed in his native Graiguecullen and his adopted Carlow town.
Frank was truly a man of the people. His passing followed a battle with serious illness and several years of declining health.
The life and times of Frank Scully were wonderfully captured in a heartfelt eulogy to her dad by his daughter Clare during his funeral Mass in St Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen on Thursday 21 April, celebrated by Fr John Dunphy, PP, Graiguecullen-Killeshin. Having welcomed the presence of Frank’s family, friends and neighbours, Clare said it was “a sad day, but an honour and privilege to be able to say a few words about Dad, especially on behalf of our family”.
It was entirely appropriate, said Clare, that Frank’s funeral Mass was taking place in St Clare’s. She continued: “In recent years, many of Dad’s outings were attending medical appointments, and when we would fill out the required documentation, he would often be asked where he was from. He would say, every time, rather forcefully: ‘My address says Carlow, but I am from Graiguecullen, born and reared!’
“And he really was from Graiguecullen, and that shaped him and his identity, his keen sense of pride in place, of the importance of community, of family, his sense of decency, justice, fairness and indeed the unfairness that people also encountered – all those things that shaped his identity were based on where he was from.
“Dad loved his Graiguecullen family dearly and fiercely – Pauline, Kathleen, Josephine, Tina and John, his beloved nephews, nieces and all the spouses and partners – they were always so close by to him in his thoughts. It’s really fitting that today we are saying goodbye to Dad in the home of his beloved Poor Clares, to whom Frank had a special devotion. And we are right across the road from St Fiacc’s, where Dad spent many happy times over the past number of years before, unfortunately, Covid put a halt to the day activities there.”
Clare said the past two or three years, with the added challenge of Covid-19, were difficult for Frank. “They have been difficult for everybody – making everyone’s lives that much smaller and harder, exacerbating all the little losses that add up in everyone’s later years. One of the biggest losses for Frank was the disappearance of his beloved daily routine.
“In Dad’s very happy retirement from the Army Band, this routine had involved going ‘into town’ every day. Now, navigating his way through the town from A to B for Dad might take anything from five minutes to an hour, depending on who he would have the good fortune to meet along the way for a chat.
“The family has had so many beautiful comments over the past few days, recounting how Dad would always greet people with a smile and leave them feeling in better form than they’d found him. This was because he genuinely loved meeting people and he enjoyed conversation, swapping stories and chatting about all manner of things.
“The daily routine would always include an interlude for a cup of coffee, but the route had a fixed end point, which was the Capuchin Friary on Dublin Street. Frank had such a great devotion to the Capuchins: he enjoyed the simplicity of the Mass almost as much as the camaraderie of the small and faithful cohort of attendees.
“In the Capuchins, Dad’s job was to lead the Rosary, and he just loved this. But Frank never liked things to get too solemn, so the Rosary would always end up with a song, with everyone singing along – not the worst philosophy for life!”
Returning to her dad’s daily routine, with Rosary said and song sung, the final leg of Frank’s journey would be to travel up the street to The Irishman’s for a spot of lunch, and frequently a further chat with great friends, who also gravitated there.
“The absence of this routine over the past couple of years was something Dad felt very keenly. The impact of restrictions, combined with declining health, meant that the last few years were challenging, for Frank and for us all.”
Clare continued that during one of the lockdowns, she read a poem called ***Black postcards*** by Tomas Tranströmer, and a few lines from it really struck her: ***In the middle of life it happens that death comes and takes your measurements. This visit is forgotten and life goes on. But the suit is sewn in silence.***
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as I think all of us have had our measurements taken; with so much removed from us, we’ve all had to try and ascertain what we’re left with: the essence of things, the fundamentals. And I think it’s fair to say Dad measured up very well. His capacity to meet every challenge and obstacle he encountered with a smile, with such a positive attitude and with such resilience, is a true testament to the man and his qualities.
“Even in the toughest of times, the glass was always half-full for Dad. These essential qualities – his unshakeable and enviable faith, his acceptance of change, his humour, his indefatigable sense of optimism, his real love of family and friends, his genuine gratitude for things – not only sustained his life over the past few years but, I have no doubt, prolonged it.
“And while Dad’s world – and all our worlds – shrank and became smaller, any such reduction or deficit was more than offset by the incredible kindness shown to him by so many. And Dad was so grateful for this, he really was. He was so aware of his increasing reliance on others and so thankful to those he relied on. As his medical and care needs increased, a whole new raft of people appeared in our lives, bringing with them a new dynamic and busyness which, of course, Dad loved. And to each and every one of these people, we are so grateful.
“And we would like to thank the medics in St Luke’s for looking after our mother Margaret, whose medical care continues there.”
Clare continued: “In recent weeks, Frank was thrilled and so thankful to see his other daughter Frances (Fran) home from Sydney. One of the silver linings of recent times is the sequence of events that conspired to make Fran unable to fly home as planned, meaning she was here for the last weeks of Dad’s life and here today for his funeral along with her husband Nathan, who flew in from Sydney on Tuesday.
“I think it’s no exaggeration to say the major thread of Dad’s life was music. As a young teenager working in Governey’s Boot Factory, Castle Hill, two pals of his from Graiguecullen tried to join the army.
“They were rejected because they were too young, but returned with the important information you only had to be 15 to enlist in the Army School of Music. Dad, always musical, accordingly joined the Army School of Music in 1953 at the age of 16 and that was the start of his long and happy career in music.
“As he used to say: ‘Imagine, I got PAID to do something I loved!’
“There are books to be written about Frank’s adventures in music – between the Army School of Music and the many happy years serving in the Band of the Curragh Command as well as the Youth Centre Band – with many happy memories and fantastic stories.”
Clare said it was through music and, specifically, the Carlow Youth Centre Band that Frank had a very fortuitous meeting. The genesis of the Carlow Youth Centre Brass and Reed Band was that one Saturday morning, Frank, by then a sergeant in the Army Band, had brought his saxophone and clarinet up to the centre, having told the boys that he’d be there if any of them were interested in having a go on the instruments. To his surprise, 60 young lads turned up – and that was the start of the Youth Centre Band.
“Not just the start of the band, though, as while that was happening on stage left, on stage right a young art teacher, a Miss Higgins from Tramore, had landed a post in the vocational school in town and happened to be teaching the same boys.
“As my mother recounts it, the boys invited her up to hear them at band practice. She knocked on the door of the Youth Centre, Frank answered it and … the rest is history!
“And that Youth Centre Band ended up with more than just Margaret meeting Frank. We last counted that 17 of the young lads who joined the Youth Centre Band went on to make their careers as professional musicians, serving in the Army and Garda Bands. That’s no small legacy.”
In setting up the Youth Centre Band, Frank had a willing ally in Fr John Fingleton, a curate in Carlow and a wonderful advocate for the youth of the town. Frank was also aided by a group of local people with the foresight to see the opportunities such a brass and reed band would bestow on these budding young musicians.
In her eulogy, Clare said the road Frank Scully and Margaret Higgins travelled together was one of such good times.
“They really did have great times, travelling extensively, a mutual love of music and adventure, a great life, and he was so proud of us his daughters – of myself, my sister Fran and her achievements both in Sydney and Ireland and of his grandchildren Oscar, Lochlann and Muireann, whom he simply adored.
“The central figure in all of this was Margaret, Dad’s life’s love, partner in adventure and great companion through thick and thin, minding him so well, especially in recent years. And in that classic Irish way, Dad used to say to me: ‘Your mother is a wonderful woman, I would be absolutely lost without her.’ So I would like to really thank Mum now for everything; she is a truly wonderful woman and they made a remarkable life together.
“And what a privilege it was for myself and Fran to grow up in a house where music was everywhere – we were reared listening to everything from opera, jazz, musicals, classical, Dad’s beloved tenors John McCormack and Al Jolson, big band music, army band music – what a wonderful thing.”
Clare’s eulogy continued: “I looked up ‘caring’ a few days ago and the internet gave me two definitions: caring as ‘the display of kindness and concern for others’; and caring as ‘the work of looking after those unable to care for themselves, especially on account of age or illness’. These definitions don’t adequately express the impact and contribution made to Dad’s life by the wonderful carers we were lucky enough to have turn the key in the door of Green Road.
“I can’t overstate the importance of these lovely people in Dad’s and our lives – we are so grateful to them all, most recently to Georgina, Lorraine, Robert, Mary, Brendan Kelly … so good to Dad, and I apologise if I have left anybody out.”
Clare expressed the Scully family’s appreciation to the Clayton Hall medical practice and Dr Ben Parmeter, Frank’s GP; to the wonderful public health nurses (Maria Quinn, Catherine and Annemarie), who became Green Road regulars and whose help and care went far beyond the job description; to the many medical teams in St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny, who became fixtures in the family’s lives over recent years.
Over the past few weeks, the family expressed special thanks to the GEMS team in St Luke’s Hospital and acknowledge the extraordinary care provided by the nurses on the wards despite the incredibly difficult conditions under which they work.
“A very special and sincere word of thanks goes to Liz Kennedy, who took the notion of caring to a new level, becoming a true friend to Dad and ourselves. Dad would say: ‘Liz is a very special person’ – and he was 100% correct.
“And we would like to thank the medics in St Luke’s for looking after our mother Margaret, whose medical care continues there.”
Clare said that over the course of his 86 years, Frank gave far more than he took.
“And so to finish … Dad would definitely be telling me to wind things up now. But I would really like to thank you all for coming here today; I’d like to thank everybody for the wonderful messages, tributes and stories that have meant so much to us in recent days. We are very grateful to Fr Dunphy for facilitating us in having Frank’s funeral Mass here and for his lovely words, and to Rory Healy for making this process far less difficult than it might have been. And we would really like to thank Majella Swan, Cathriona and Pat (Strat) Gorman for the beautiful music we have heard here today at Mass.
“I’d like to thank Frank, too, for everything, and I hope some of you will raise a glass to him later on, which he would love. We will be having a private cremation of Dad’s remains at a later date, but you are all invited back to The Irishman’s pub immediately after this funeral Mass and we hope you might join us there.
“One final thing, and this is really to honour the spirit of Dad liking to finish things off with a song: in the past few years, when he wasn’t able to get out and about under his own steam, one of the things he really loved to do was to go for a spin in the car. He called it a jaunt and, believe it or not, he got a great kick out of going through the carwash. I’d get the ticket for the carwash and a packet of chocolate buttons for him and we’d listen to music on the radio while the car was going through and he was as happy as Larry.”
Clare’s eulogy concluded: “We’d often have a bit of a sing-song in the car. I want to leave you with a few lines from a Louis Prima song Frank loved that came on during one of our car jaunts, and he had a great singalong to this. And I know he heartily approved of the sentiments:
Enjoy yourself it’s later than you think
Enjoy yourself while you’re still in the pink
The years go by, as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself
It’s later than you think.
Frank is deeply mourned by wife Margaret, daughters Clare and Frances (Fran), his cherished grandchildren Oscar, Lochlann and Muireann, his sisters and brother, nieces, nephews, extended family, wide circle of friends, colleagues in music and the Scully’s kind neighbours.
A private cremation ceremony for Frank Scully was held on Saturday 23 April.