Con was a 69-year old labouring man who lived in a mobile home just outside the Kerry village of Brosna. After an evening with friends in a local pub, Con dropped dead in a building site as he made his way home alone on the night of Saturday, April 1, 1978. Being found the next morning, he was hastily laid out in the local hall that evening, without any of the usual preparations. Funeral Mass followed on Monday, and Con was then buried with his mother a few miles away in the Limerick village of Mountcollins.
In death Con ‘fell through the cracks’. There was no immediate family to handle his arrangements. The doctor is said to have pronounced him dead over the phone, the ambulance coming for him was called away before it reached Brosna. Rather than being brought to the morgue in Tralee, he was taken to the local hall, where he was coffined in clothes still wet and dirty from the building site where he had met his end.
It seemed as though all the formal and informal networks of our society had failed Con by neglecting him after his death.
Theologians sometimes talk of ‘structural evil’ – the way in which human societies of benevolent people are still capable of neglecting their responsibilities. This is surely an example of that.
To the credit of the people of Brosna, the conscience of the community was pricked, and a group of 11 men and one woman – known in locally as the 12 apostles – decided they needed to do right by their friend Con. They crossed the county bounds into Mountcollins the following day, armed with shovels and a clean burial shroud. With the assistance of a local shopkeeper, they dug Con up, washed his body, put on the shroud, and laid him to rest again in his grave, satisfied that a wrong had been rectified and that proper respect had been shown to their neighbour.
Such an exhumation was contrary to the law. The washing and dressing of a corpse after burial is totally at odds with any traditional treatment of our faithful departed. And yet, that is how it happened, and it happened thus to satisfy the need to show respect when the conventional way of doing things had failed, and in order to make good an injustice.
The visit of the women to the tomb of Christ is something that sceptical scholars pick over when challenging the reliability of scriptures. They say that such a visit made no sense and flew in the face of the conventional way of doing things. It seems too odd to be true.
In response to that, all I can say is that if such a thing could happen in Mountcollins, I don’t see why it couldn’t have happened in Jerusalem.
The double-burial of Con Carey can be topped in Kerry history. An article in Frank O’Donovan’s book Abbeydorney, Our Own Place tells of a priest who was buried three times. Fr Thomas Brosnan was the much-beloved parish priest of Abbeydorney from 1869 to 1894.
He is well-remembered for defending the rights of tenants in his parish during turbulent times. On his death in 1894, his parishioners wanted him buried inside his parish church. The Bishop insisted he be buried in the church grounds instead. On the day of his funeral, his parishioners dug his grave inside the church. When they insisted on burying him there, the clergy present refused to carry out the funeral liturgy. The church was subsequently closed by the Bishop in protest at this move. A few months later, the Bishop arranged for him to be buried in the church grounds and for a priest to celebrate the funeral service. His repose in that grave was short-lived. Appalled at how their relation had been treated, Fr Brosnan’s family came in force the next day, dug him up and re-interred him in their own family grave in Killeentierna. There he rests to this very day, awaiting the resurrection of the dead.