The Death Notice

The Death Notice

by Sr. Sheila Devane MMM                          Ireland            10.07.2024       

I find myself reading death notices quite often.  Sadly, these days I now know more of the people written about than I’d choose to admit!  Ageing brings many things; old age takes from us too.  In Ireland, the main way we learn about someone’s death is through an online service called “” and I check for the recent deaths every now and then.  So be it.

Yesterday I spent time with a friend; we chatted about lots of things: tennis, our families, and days gone by.  I heard this story from her about the way a death was announced to her grandmother.

Over a hundred years ago in Ireland we certainly had no form of external communication with anyone except by letter.  It was a time of mass emigration to USA, England, Scotland Australia, and Canada.  Also, many missionaries were leaving their families to go all over the world never to return home again.

May Quinn, Sally’s grandmother, came from a large family & had two brothers who joined the Franciscans.  Both left Ireland, one for Australia, the other for South Africa; neither ever returned to Co. Mayo.  They wrote letters home telling of their missionary work; these took months to arrive and those written in reply on a special, green, light airmail page also took ages to reach their destination.  So, it was all about getting the letter.  This was a time even long before the telegram.  People would frequently ask each other “did you get a letter?”  In rural Ireland post was carefully watched by the postman or postmistress who knew who was receiving letters and who wasn’t. Confidentiality was different then too!

One morning May came to breakfast announcing to her youngest grandchild that Andy had died.  The child knew he was her father’s uncle who she had never met, and that he was a priest in Australia, a very big country where there were kangaroos and other strange animals. The grandchild also knew Australia was hot, as the two photos they had showed him wearing sunglasses and a large, brimmed sunhat.  She passed no remarks but on going outside met her father to whom she told “Uncle Andy has died.”  He was shocked, this was his oldest uncle and one he had met before he left many years ago.  What had happened?  Did they get a letter?

May told her story; she had received no letter but Andy passed through her room the night before.  The family were alarmed more at the announcement of the death than of the death itself.  Was mother losing her mind?  Did she dream?  True?  What?

About six months letter a letter did arrive, but not from Andy.  It came from someone calling himself the Minister General in Rome, announcing the unexpected death in Perth, Australia, on the very day May had “met” Andy herself.

Death comes in many ways, death announcements too.