[Home] [Find Us] [Opening Hours] [The Centre] [The Cardinal] [Notice Board] [Publications] [Ó Fiaich Country] [Links]/font>



Back to Tributes

UNCLE TOM
by
Deirdre Fee, Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh

Extracts, with the Society's permission, from an article in the 1991 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society

Dr. Patrick Fee, Cardinal Tomas, Mrs Deirdre FeeI first met Tomas O Fiaich in 1955, when his brother, Patrick, and I were doing a line and seriously thinking of marriage. I was more than a little nervous, as Paddy and I headed down to Maynooth to meet him but I needn't have been, as Tom greeted me with a big smile and bear-hug. The warmth with which he greeted me that day was to set the pattern for our relationship until he died.

Tom performed our marriage ceremony on the 8th February 1956 and we had our reception in the Four Courts Hotel, Dublin. Although it had snowed hard the day before, on the day of our wedding the sun shone and it was a beautiful day. During the reception, Paddy, Tom, Mr Fee and a few others disappeared for a while. I didn't know until a couple of days later that Mary Anne, the aunt who had brought them up, had died that morning. Tom told Paddy to take me away on our honeymoon and that he would look after everything. Paddy and I went to Mass in London on the day of the funeral.

In November, the 25th to be exact, our first little girl was born. Tom was as pleased as we were and delighted when we said we were calling her Ainin, the Irish for his mother's name, Annie.......

......He loved playing with the children. He had a great way with them. The family grew, another child was born and Tom and his father called regularly.......

......Christmas-time in our house was always hectic. With seven children - later, there was to be eight - there was never a dull moment. One Christmas, Ainin announced that there was no Santa and, of course, this upset the younger children. On Christmas Day, Tom came down the stairs and into the sitting-room, where the children were all opening parcels. He looked at the scene -myself sitting surrounded by children and toys - and told the most wonderful yarn to us all. He had sat at the window all night, watching Santa with his sleigh, swooping up and down delivering parcels round the town. He must have left Cross' 'til the last, said he, and then started to describe the race back to the North Pole. Well, Micheal O Hehir couldn't have done a better job at it. There was just a slight opening in the sky and Santa had to make it, before it closed. The opening got smaller and smaller and, just in time, Santa got through, but not without scraping the side of the sleigh. The children were mesmerised by the story and the infectious, dramatic voice of Tom, as he related the event. He took them all to the window to see the pink clouds, where the paint from Santa's sleigh had spread over the sky. No one in our house ever said that Santa didn't exist after that. That was just one of the stories he told. He just loved to have a captive audience, eyes glued to his, as he told them all the legends of Ireland and its history......

......Football was the love of' Tom's life and his diary would always have the main matches marked in as early in the year as possible. He tried, even as Cardinal, to keep these days free. For over twenty years, Tom and his team of football-fans attended practically every match in the Ulster Football Championship series and many AllIreland Football Semi-Finals......

......Tom now lived in Ara Coeli, where Madge Walsh looked after him like a son. He was very fond of Madge and Paddy and I and, indeed, all the children, loved her for her kindness and gentleness. John Ward was to be his driver and companion. John, too, became a great friend of the family.

Two years later, came the "Red Hat". Rome, and all the media coverage again......

......In December 1982, Paddy had an operation to remove a kidney, which was diagnosed as malignant. He was in hospital in Belfast over Christmas and Tom rarely left his side......

......The Annual Pilgrimage to Lourdes was to take place on the 7th to 12th May. Paddy and I were booked to go, Paddy as an invalid...... Tom was a tower of strength to Paddy in Lourdes. As soon as he had completed his duties, he came and sat with us......We got home from Lourdes and Paddy died on the 17th May 1983, with myself and Tom and all the family beside him.......

Life goes on and we make the best of the situation we find ourselves in. Tom took over as head of the family, calling as often as he could, always willing to advise or help in whatever way he could...... I can truthfully say Tom Fee never came to our house as "Cardinal". He was just simply Uncle Tom, the family-man.

Last Christmas, 1989, when Tom arrived, it was obvious that he had a very bad cold. I did my best to get him to stay in bed for a day or two but he just refused, insisting that he was O.K. ......I will never forget last Christmas, Tom sitting in our crowded sitting-room, sleeping most of the time, but content to be with us all......

......In the New Year, he called to see us, more often than usual, and, when Easter came, he spent the day with us. I think he slept most of that day, too. It was quite obvious that he was worn out.......

......On the morning of the 8th May 1990, [In Lourdes] he just looked wrecked. I was worried about him, as we headed down to the Grotto for Mass......

......The Mass started...... I looked at him and he was looking out into the distance and not down at the invalids, as was usual for him. He obviously was not feeling well......

......Back in the hotel, Tony arrived shortly after us, with Tom. I was able to talk to Tom. He said he shouldn't have come, as he was causing a lot of bother. He hadn't slept for forty-eight hours and had decided not to come, and then he got a great night's sleep and decided to come rather than let anyone down...... Tom asked me for a drink of water and I got him this, propped him up well with pillows and he seemed to relax. He said he would sleep for a while and for me to go off for a couple of hours. He would be all right, he said, and was glad to have me there. That was the last time I saw Tom alive.

Lourdes went into mourning, along with the Irish Nation. Shocked and saddened, we arranged to bring Tom's body home to Ireland......

......A guard-of honour was mounted twenty-four hours per day while Tom was in Lourdes. Bishop Comiskey and Bishop Farquar flew over to Lourdes to concelebrate Mass for Tom on the Friday......It was a very moving ceremony, the coffin surrounded by bishops, priests, family, sick and pilgrims......

......We arrived at the airport the following morning...... After a short ceremony, my sons, Patrick and John, and some close friends gently placed Tom's coffin into the hold of the aircraft.....

I couldn't believe the crowds at Dublin Airport. It seemed as if the whole of Dublin was there. As we headed north, crowds of people lined the road....... Their silence was deafening. Sadness surrounded us.

......In Dundalk, we...... stood at the same spot where, thirteen years previously, he had come home with the "Red Hat" and had been welcomed by the people......

We travelled to Drumbilla Customs area and...... headed over the Border. A crowd met us at Carragher's petrol-pumps ...... Crowds lined the roads at Ford's Cross......We headed into Crossmaglen......

Crowds filled the area. The shrubs on the grave were a blaze of colour, beautiful in their splendour, as if they were rejoicing at the return home of Fr Tom....... Canon O'Neill, Fr. Sweeney, Fr. O'Hanlon and Fr. Reid said the Prayers for the Dead and a decade of the Rosary.......

We travelled on to Anamar and stopped at the old homestead, where a decade of the Rosary was said by Mrs Peter Carragher. We then turned over to Sheetrim and over the hills to Cullyhanna. Fr. Moran was at the church-door to welcome the remains of his good friend....... Kevin McMahon read the lesson...... I looked over the graveyard where Tom's parents were buried and, as I did so, five birds - possibly swallows - swooped down over the graves and appeared to dip their wings and then flew away......

Off we went again, through Newtownhamilton...... to Armagh. Again crowds....... Dean Francis McLarnon and Fr. Raymond Murray received Tom's remains, both deeply shocked and saddened by the death of their brother-in-Christ. Fr. Raymond gave the homily......

As he lay in state in the Cathedral in Armagh, thousands of people from all over Ireland filed past to pay their last respects to one of their own, each one with his or her own memory.

The day of the funeral came. Dignitaries from all over the world were there in the Cathedral - the President of Ireland; the Taoiseach; members of the Irish Government and Opposition; Peter Brooke, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; Lord Caledon, Representative of the Queen of England; and members of every section of the political and social scene of Northern Ireland were present. At last, Tom Fee had, if only for about a couple of hours, achieved his life-long ambition - a united people.

We laid him to rest in the place he himself had chosen and, as I watched - tears just about held at bay - I wondered at the greatness of this humble, gentle man. What a privilege it was to have had him as a member of our family. A man from Creggan, a friend in need and a friend in deed.




Back to Tributes