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A priest, gardaí, and people from groups such as the Alice Leahy Trust were at the graveside to mourn two deceased homeless men from Poland as they were buried in Dublin earlier this week
They began digging the grave shortly after 8am last Tuesday. The teeth of the mechanical digger clawed at a film of frost and down into the cold ground.
It was all done in a matter of minutes, the displaced earth carted off in a dumper. Timber supports were placed at the side of the hole, straw dropped in to make a bed for the coffins.
A hearse drove at speed along the road that runs at the edge of Dardistown cemetery. It stopped and a simple wooden coffin was slid from the rear of the vehicle and carried by workmen to the side of the freshly dug grave.
“Miroslaw Sierakowski, 21 October 2021” was inscribed on a brass plate. He was 36 years of age.
The hearse took off again. Over the following 20 minutes, a small knot of people gathered at the side of the grave, next to a row of silver birch trees. They were from agencies that provide services to homeless people, the Alice Leahy Trust, The Order of Malta, The Mendicity Institution.
The hearse returned and a second coffin was taken from it. The inscription on this one read, “Robert Matacz, 10 June 2021”.
He was 47 when he died.
The coffins were then lowered into the grave, one on top of the other.
As best could be determined, the two Polish men probably were acquainted but weren’t friends and nobody could recall seeing them in each other’s company. Yet they were now joined in their final resting place, in a different country and society from where their lives took shape.
Monsignor Eoin Thynne stepped forward to say a few words. As he did so, another Ryanair plane descended from a sky heavy with grey clouds, coming in to land at Dublin Airport which adjoins Dardistown.
In all likelihood, the two deceased men separately entered the country on such a flight, their first view of this land of promise taking in the vast rows of headstones just before touchdown.
From there, they would have travelled by bus or taxi past the graveyard’s entrance, probably giddy with the kind of excitement known to recently-arrived immigrants.
Now their final resting place would symbolically note that they hadn’t got very far in the country in which they had invested their dreams.
The monsignor touched on fragments of the two men’s lives. Robert had used the services of Alice Leahy Trust on a frequent basis, as he had with the other agencies. He was always mannerly and polite. He had worked as a delivery driver. He had a twin sister, and his mother had died young.
Miroslaw had a great sense of humour. A few years back, during a heavy fall of snow, he had arrived at the gates of the trust and helped clear the paths. He was laughing at the big deal that was being made of the weather. “You Irish, you don’t know what snow is,” he said.
He called the people in the Alice Leahy Trust his Irish family. The last time he visited was October 4, 2021, six days before he died. He passed in four cigarettes and asked that they be shared out among the agency’s other clients.
Both men had worked at various jobs before the vicissitudes of life intervened to disrupt the dreams they must have harboured on immigrating to this country.
Throughout the pandemic, funerals were robbed of the warmth drawn from crowds gathering in around the bereaved. The spectre was one of the saddest through a strange and frightening time.
Yet beyond the confines of graveyards, communities did what they could to comfort those who had suffered loss, forming lines along the route, phoning, messaging, waving, transmitting that while they can’t be there in person, their collective spirit is pushing in around the graveside.
Thankfully, the ritual of funerals is, like everything else, returning to some form of normality.
For those who have been thrust onto the margins, bonds broken with family, the final journey remains lonely, unmarked and doesn’t do justice to the occasion. In the place of a eulogy, only fragments of the deceased’s life can be assembled.
Rather than the hum of conversation as friends and family reminisce, there is this quiet gathering of a few people who work with the unmoored, now bearing witness in the void.
The various agencies have plots reserved for those whose remains will go unclaimed and require the dignity of a final resting place. The grave for the two Polish men was provided by the Glasnevin Trust, which also reserves plots for this purpose.
At least 30 people have been buried in this manner in Dardistown over the last two years. In Cork, there have been two such burials in the same period at St Finbarr’s Cemetery, a woman from the Congo, and a Moroccan trawlerman recovered from the sea.
When Monsignor Thynne concluded, Alice Leahy said a few words, noting that the sad ending for some immigrants in this country was a replica of what had occurred in previous generations for many Irish emigrants who died alone and were buried far from home.
The exceptions shine through.
In 2019, Tipperary man Joseph Tuohy died in north London after a hard life.
An appeal went out to bring his body home and ultimately he was afforded a funeral fit for a king in Dublin, complete with piper, a soprano, and hundreds of mourners who came to acknowledge that some lives never cop a lucky break.
Now and again, there is also the odd story about a successful rescue from the trajectory towards a premature death among those described as homeless.
On Tuesday morning, two men who attended at Dardistown were Garda Damien McCarthy and his retired colleague Joe Gannon. They, along with Garda Alan O’Dowd, assisted Ms Leahy’s organisation in repatriating a man last year who wanted to go home because things hadn’t worked out and he was living on the streets.
Romi Ramtohul had frequented the same agencies as the deceased Polish men. He also had struggled with finding a place for himself in society after coming here in search of a new life.
Unlike so many though, fate smiled on him and, with plenty of help, he ultimately made it back home to Mauritius. It was a rare good news story from the margins.
After Ms Leahy spoke the small gathering stood in silence.
Within an hour or so, the busy cemetery would be back to handling standard burials, with corteges crawling through the entrance, mourners arriving in droves to lend comfort to the bereaved.
The small ritual on this cold morning came to a close. A woman from the Order of Malta stepped forward to the grave with a bunch of daffodils. A pair of lights shone through the clouds as another plane began its descent.
In the distance, where rush-hour was well underway on the intersecting M50 and M1 motorways, the traffic sounded like the sea.