A UNIQUE CELEBRATION FOR A VERY SPECIAL MAN
He was a unique man in many ways, and last Monday, the life of Brian Conyngham was celebrated in quite a unique manner, as was befitting his character.
In an interdenominational funeral service, the church which was so special to him and his beloved wife Phil played host to the faith which he cherished, as a Bahá’í ceremony was shared in the Augustinian Church. Joint celebrants were Fr David Crean OSA and Kevin Brogan of the local Bahá’í community.
During normal times, the church would have been packed with family and friends mourning the loss of the former editor of the Drogheda Independent – present staff of the newspaper bowed their heads for moment as his remains arrived across from the Shop Street offices – but his close family held his memory dear during the surprisingly joyous occasion.
It is seldom The Girl from Ipanema is played at a funeral.
Indeed, beautiful music played a key role, as life-long friend, composer Michael Holohan, joined other musical royalty Helen Leahy (violin), Susan Connolly (flute) and Breifne Holohan, Barry Leahy and Terry McHugh on guitars. The strains of the South African national anthem began the ceremony, as Brian was a native of that country, born in Pretoria in 1941.
Fr Crean spoke warmly of the man he counted amongt his best friends.
‘Colm and Gerard have lost their dad, and Phil has lost her Cara, the other half with whom she shared a journey that stretches back 55 years, to when they made their vows on July 10th 1965,’ he told those present,’ said Fr Crean. ‘His dying will leave an emptiness in the lives of many.’
He recalled the Greek island of Mykonos where the romance began; on the beach there, ‘destiny showed its hand’.
A young man, bearded, of 23 years of age, had hitchhiked all the way from his native South Africa, on a journey of discovery,’ he said fondly.
‘On the beach that day he found Phil. He ended then the journey he was on, to begin with her a journey of
a different kind. They made a home, gave life to their sons, and remained constantly at her side; with the exception of the times she went shopping!’
They shared a love for life – they shared the same gift for making and for keeping friends. Brian was a newspaper man ‘ through and through’ and worked in journalism all his working life. He worked in London and Belfast, before arriving in Drogheda, where he became editor of the Drogheda in 1969.
With Phil at his side, he made a difference to the town, and was the inspiration and driving force behind the Samba festival, and in recent times, when he saw how multicultural Drogheda was becoming, he helped foster integration.
In his 80th year, Brian’s contribution to the many cultural aspects of the town was immense.
During a peaceful and gentle service – interspersed with beautiful music – bible readings were interwoven with Bahá’í hymns and readings, and the many achievements of the soft-spoken, yet remarkable, man were recalled.
And not least by his own son Gerard, who spoke at length about his beloved father.
‘He was a quiet, gently spoken man and never really got angry very often, even with the stress of getting a newspaper out with deadlines and everything – I see one or two of them popped out of the office today even though I know the paper comes out a three – and Dad survived all the life,’ he said. ‘ There wasn’t a committee meeting held in Drogheda that one or other of them wasn’t at, and they were especially proud of the Samba festival, the Arts Council, and more recently Culture Connect,
He explained how different Brian and Phil were, but the opposites must have definitely attracted as they celebrated over 50 glorious years as a married couple.
‘If you did the maths you’ll know they celebrated their 55th anniversary this year – but my mother loves to talk, my dad loved to talk too she took a breath every now and then – she loves a large audience and he liked face to face,’ he explained.
‘But they have more in common than you might think, and they brought the best out in each other’.