I spoke with Pat Hunt (via email) in recent days. We talked of Joe Spelman and Bishop Brendan’s homily and the “appreciation” he mentioned that had been written about Fr Joe’s mother (R.I.P. them both) following her death in 1982. I am fairly confident I have a copy of that somewhere but most likely filed, like lots of my bits and pieces, under “I don’t know where!!”. Pat told me he’d send me the words. A man of his word, he did! I will include them here. They were written by Mary Corcoran whose Funeral Mass I celebrated in Monasteraden in February 2015. God Rest them all. Thanks to Pat Hunt for sharing these words with me again ..
LATE MRS M. SPELMAN
(An appreciation by an ex-Pupil)
I was five years old when I first met Mrs Spelman. She was the Infants’ teacher in Coolavin School and she travelled daily by train from Ballaghaderreen to Island Road Station. There,the “big girls” took her bag leaving her two hands free to clasp the “wee ones” as she called us in her softly slightly northern accent.
For those of us venturing out to school for the first time her hand had a comforting feel as we trotted the half mile to school. To get to the Class Room we had to pass through the “Big School” — and while Mrs Spelman was allowed the short cut across the hearth flag, we crept silently round the room under the baleful glare of the “the Mrs” — whose specs on the end of her nose, seemed to give her the ability to see in all directions simultaneously. Once inside the Class Room door we were safe. With chalk, slates, pencils, ball-frames, plasticine, she taught us all that we were able to learn. If we were bright, we earned her smile and a pat; if we were slow, we earned a bit more of her time and patience, but if we were bold, we earned her frown and her disappointment but never, ever her anger.
Above all she taught us how to pray. Such was her fervour and devotion that it wasn’t unknown for people outside of school to ask for her prayers in time of trouble. Preparation for first Holy Communion wasn’t just intended for one particular Whit Sunday, rather did it lay the foundation for devotion to the Blessed Sacrament for the rest of our lives. We left her room after two years, but we never left her thoughts and prayers.
I met her again just two weeks ago. Though in her late 80s, she bubbled with joy and welcome and for a couple of hours we travelled “Bóithrín na Smaointe”. Only a few days later the “two boys” (as she fondly called her sons Frs Jo and Jerry) took her for a trip around her beloved Coolavin and Monasteraden, where she renewed many old acquaintances. A few days later she returned to Dublin to her daughter. There she died.
True, she never won any Captain’s prize on the golf links nor was she the president of any organisation. Neither did she receive any public recognition when her thirty years in Monasteraden came to an end, but she carved a niche in our hearts that will last forever. As I left Kilcolman graveyard on Wednesday, the prayer of the Bishop as he blessed the coffin kept coming back to me, “May the Angels lead you into Paradise and may the saints and martyrs greet you at your coming” — for they don’t come like Mrs Spelman any more.
Mrs Spelman died on 29th August 1982