I’m sad to say that while I was in the same room as him on a couple of occasions, most recently at the Swift Satire Festival “Battle of the Books” lunch as recently as July, I never met Tommy Murray.
And now, sadly, I never will.
While sitting amongst a group of 40 or 50 people at Navan Library on Wednesday night for Eileen Battersby’s talk on Mary Lavin, I half-expected to see Tommy around the place.
Navan Library was a regular haunt of his – there wasn’t a library events listing in my memory that didn’t include something involving Tommy, whether it was a book launch or a reading or, most commonly, a creative writing class for the young lads and lasses of Meath.
Tommy was 81 when he died last Saturday week (November 3rd), and the fact of his age was almost as much of a surprise as news of his death when it finally reached me, only yesterday, by virtue of a fortnight-old blog post from his friend and old “Battle of the Books” rival Michael Farry.
Because Tommy was as full of life as any of us can hope to be in our 20s or 30s, never mind our 80s. His own blog provided ample evidence of that vitality in his last two posts in the dying days of October.
Firstly he mentioned the launch of the Meath Junior Writers Anthology, a collection of the work of 26 young people from the ages of 9 to 15 who were tutored by Tommy at Navan Library on Saturday mornings. That launch was due to have been held last night (November 15th).
And very poignantly, in his final blog on Wednesday, October 31st, just three days before his death, Tommy’s pride in having a poem selected for publication by Galway poetry group Skylight Poets was tangible. Tommy Murray’s name was no stranger to publication – his 13th book, a collection of poetry entitled “Swimming with Dolphins”, was published by Belfast’s Lapwing Press earlier this year – but his enthusiasm remained intact and he wrote of his hope that he would make it to Galway for the Skylight launch on January 24th next.
This, clearly, was a man not yet ready for death. And yet in talking about it with Mrs Blogger last night, it seemed a perfect way to bow out. Of course, the shock to his family will have been raw, and will remain raw now, just two weeks later. But still, faced with the divergent paths of a degeneration of body and mind, quick or gradual, and living a life of eight decades to the full until the last possible moment… I know which route I’d choose.
A belated farewell, Tommy. Sorry I hardly knew ya.
Update: Here’s a recording of Tommy reading his poem “Hometown” in Castle Arch Hotel in Trim on Thursday, October 25th (via thetarapoetryblog)