Monday, March 17, 2008

In Memory of Finbarr Dinneen, on St. Patrick's Day


My father's given name was Finbarr, though he didn't much appreciate it. If you have any connection to County Cork, his name may be enough to tell you that he was as Irish as they get, though as it happens he was born and raised in England, his parents having left Cork not long before, during a difficult time. Wikipedia recounts the history as follows:
In 1920, during a guerrilla war in Ireland which pitted the Volunteers or Irish Republican Army (IRA) against British state forces, the 1920 Government of Ireland Act partitioned the island of Ireland into two separate jurisdictions, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. This partition of Ireland was confirmed in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which ended the guerrilla war in the south and created the Irish Free State, an all-but-independent Irish state or Dominion within the Commonwealth...
Saint Finbarr (c.550–c.620) was Bishop of Cork in the 6th century and patron saint for the city and diocese of Cork. Again quoting from Wikipedia:
Possibly born near Bandon [birthplace, as it happens, of my paternal great-grandmother, Margaret Kelly], and originally named Lochan, he is said to have studied in County Kilkenny where he was renamed Fionnbharr (Fairhead in Irish) for the colour of his hair. Finbarr is widely believed to have lived at an island hermitage at Gougane Barra, before founding a monastic settlement and centre of learning at an Corcach Mór. This settlement was to eventually grow to become the city of Cork.

Varying accounts of Finbarr's life suggest he travelled to Rome, and preached at Barra in Scotland. Finbarr died at Cloyne in Cork and was buried in Gill Abbey -- a site occupied by the present day Church of Ireland Saint Finbarre's Cathedral.

There are several variations on the spelling of Finbarr's name. It will often be spelt as "Finbarre", or as a modern derivation "Finbar" (popular as a masculine name in Cork). Finbar is an Irish name. Catholics and Protestants both recognise St. Finbarr. His feast day is 25 September.
My dad, known always as Barry, passed away at the age of 78 on this date, March 17, in 2001, following a long decline due to Alzheimer's disease. Having trained as a printer's apprentice in England after a harsh childhood appropriately described as Dickensian, and having flown Martinets, Hurricanes and (at least once) Spitfires as an RAF pilot in the final years of the war, he was eventually moved to take up employment abroad. He worked as a government printer in Tanganyika (where he met and married my mother; they were later divorced) and then Kenya (where my brother and I were born) in the 1950s and early '60s. The family moved to San Francisco in 1964. He was a journeyman printer-proofreader at the Oakland Tribune for many years, and a member of the Typographical Union. He became an avid sailor as an adult, fulfilling a boyhood longing; he sailed his first sailboat, a Laser, on Lake Merced in southern San Francisco for several years, and then graduated to his beloved Santana 22, which was berthed at Berkeley Harbor and which he sailed all over San Francisco Bay.

He moved to Northfield after his diagnosis, in about 1995. He lived for about six months upstairs from what was then Crystals & Wolf, in the apartment where Maggie Lee now lives, enjoying a view of the river but tormented by hallucinations caused by the Alzheimer's. As he declined further, he lived at Lindenwood for a number of months and then spent five long years at Three Links, moving further through the stages of his disease.

How he would have loved knowing his seven wonderful grandchildren, the oldest of whom barely remember him and certainly not as he would have wanted to be remembered: a charming, gentle, kind, unfailingly polite, youthful-looking man, an avid reader, a lover of classical music and the San Francisco Giants, with an appreciation for good coffee or a cold beer, and a persistent twinkle in his Irish eyes -- brown-and-green hazel, the same as mine.

6 comments:

Hugh said...

Your final paragragh made me weep like a woman. (or veep like voman) in Russian. I have been pondering lately, the snooker champion pub Dad. Singer of songs and excellent mate that I never got to know. I know when I was hanging out at home smoking and drinking, with my friends, he told me once I was doing it wrong. He said you had to sing and laugh and play games.

I would have liked to know that guy. I guess he gave it all up for Mum and then us. I have a couple of pubs I would take him to in a heartbeat.

Penelope said...

I think most people leave behind the giddier social habits of their younger days when they marry and start having children. Mum says he was -- unlike her -- quite content making home and family the center of his life outside work. I don't think he ever regretted anything he gave up for us. And I don't know that he would have found that same social pub life so easily here in America, even if he had been so inclined. But yes, it would be wonderful to be a fly on the wall of those long-ago pubs...

Tess FitzGerald Alvillar said...

My grandfather Patrick Dinneen emigrated from Crosshaven Cork to San Francisco in 1908.

Tess FitzGerald Alvillar

Penelope said...

Interesting! I knew there were some other Dinneens, and even more Dineens, in that area, but I don't think I ever met any. Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

They say, if it were not for Guinness, the Irish would rule the world!

Sorry about your father's long illness. You can tell just by the photo of him, he had a gentle soul.

WSU Online said...

A lovely story, and a wonderful photo.