I’m back from a journey of sadness to the east coast of Canada. I was called back suddenly to Nova Scotia recently as my family relayed the sad news that my elderly mother had passed away to her eternal rest.
This was a remarkable woman who was known and loved by many people in our small, progressive community in northeastern Nova Scotia. She was the only child of a country doctor from northeast Margaree, Cape Breton. And this solitary upbringing fostered a deep desire to have a large family of her own. In that she succeeded. I am one of the youngest of her seven children. And from my brothers and sisters, we gave her 19 grandchildren to whom she was deeply attached. But family was by no means her only focus. This remarkable woman developed deep and long lasting relationships with innumerable friends and relatives throughout our home community and in Cape Breton.
Among her many loves was music, and she encouraged all of us to pursue musical education. For me and most of my brothers and sisters it was the piano. I moved on to cello and then eventually to bagpipes.
My mother was always proud to be Irish. Her descendants emigrated from Dublin, Ireland in the late 19th century to the lush Margaree Valley in Cape Breton. This conclave of Irishness in the heart of a Highland Scottish immigrant landscape added a strong element to the culture and faith of the region. St. Patrick’s Parish, in northeast Margaree is a testament to that faith and community building spirit. These Irish settlers produced doctors, lawyers (Harvard Lake, now called “Lake O’Law”, was named after the many Harvard-educated lawyers from northeast Margaree) and priests. The region produced forward thinking social justice advocates such as Fr. Jimmy Tompkins and Fr. Moses Coady.
But marrying the son of a Scottish engineer from the “Highland Heart of Nova Scotia” did bring its influences. Hence my love of the bagpipes and her request to my sisters in the last few months of her life that I play pipes for her as she was carried out of her beloved St. Ninian’s Cathedral for the last time.
With her sons, son-in-law’s, and oldest grandson carrying the coffin through the massive oak doors and down the front steps to the waiting MacIsaac’s hearse, I stood under the ancient pine trees and played her final musical request: “Leaving Lismore”; a beautiful Scottish tune popular in our area.
She now lies beside my father in the family cemetery plot, overlooking the town and county, in Tír na nÓg (land I love.)
The wake and funeral in my Nova Scotia town was a profound and moving experience. Her steadying influence, commitment to family and faith and steadfast views continue to be greatly missed by her children and friends.
Eternal rest grant onto her.