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Pandemic upends life for Ireland's pub owners-cum-undertakers

Pandemic upends life for Ireland's pub owners-cum-undertakers

Friday, February 05, 2021, 08:58 GMT+7
Pandemic upends life for Ireland's pub owners-cum-undertakers
Funeral director and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar and Undertakers drives his hearse, through empty streets past his business, containing a prepared coffin to collect the body of a deceased local man from hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, January 31, 2021. Photo: Reuters

FETHARD, Ireland -- As one of around 80 Irish publicans carrying on the tradition of doubling up as the local funeral director, Jasper Murphy has seen first hand how the pandemic is preventing people coming together in good times and bad.

The doors of his McCarthy’s Pub and Restaurant in the small southern Irish town of Fethard have been shut for large parts of the last 10 months, with COVID-19 restrictions also limiting mourners at funerals to as few as 10 for much of that period.

In ordinary times, family and friends might remember a loved one over a meal and a pint at McCarthy’s, but that’s not possible with the country locked down again after a devastating third wave of infections led to more COVID-19 deaths in January than the previous eight months combined.

Funeral director and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar and Undertakers brings a speaker and microphone to the gravesite of a recently deceased local man before his funeral ceremony, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Funeral director and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar and Undertakers brings a speaker and microphone to the gravesite of a recently deceased local man before his funeral ceremony, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

“People really do miss that,” Murphy said, sorting orders for takeaway Sunday roast dinners - the only hospitality service allowed under COVID-19 curbs - before beginning to prepare a coffin for a funeral he was notified of early that morning.

“In a lot of cases, a funeral might be the only time a family meets. I know that’s an odd thing to say. When you’ve got people living away, you might not see them again until the next funeral.”

Historically in Ireland, many bar owners juggled careers as undertakers, farmers, grocers, auctioneers and postmasters. McCarthy’s was once a hotel and numbers still hang on the rooms upstairs, where Murphy, the fifth generation proprietor, changes into a suit to collect the body.

Gravedigger Lee Molony starts filling in soil over the coffin at the grave of a recently deceased local man whose funeral undertaker and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar directed at Fethard parish church, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Gravedigger Lee Molony starts filling in soil over the coffin at the grave of a recently deceased local man whose funeral undertaker and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar directed at Fethard parish church, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

In this instance preparations include a trip to Marks & Spencer to buy a suit for the deceased, whose home was too damp to retrieve one of his own after he died in care.

In an added coronavirus complication, Murphy had to ask the store owner for a dispensation to make the purchase, as non-essential retail is currently banned.

At the man’s funeral three days later, friends, many of them elderly men, dotted around the outer walls of the graveyard in masks to pay their respects at a distance.

Priests Fr. Liam Everard and Fr. Tom Breen lead the burial mass at Fethard Parish church with a government imposed limit of mourners for a recently deceased local man whose funeral undertaker and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar is directing, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Priests Fr. Liam Everard and Fr. Tom Breen lead the burial mass at Fethard Parish church with a government imposed limit of mourners for a recently deceased local man whose funeral undertaker and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar is directing, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

A few hundred, or even a few thousand often attended funerals in rural Ireland before the pandemic, Murphy said. With numbers restricted, the service and burial pass by quickly.

Murphy last pulled a pint on Christmas Eve and may not get to for another two months at least. His yard between the pub and a store room of coffins is full of unused beer kegs.

Priests Fr. Liam Everard and Fr. Tom Breen give funeral mass at Fethard Parish church with a government imposed limit of mourners for a recently deceased local man whose funeral undertaker and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar is directing, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Priests Fr. Liam Everard and Fr. Tom Breen give funeral mass at Fethard Parish church with a government imposed limit of mourners for a recently deceased local man whose funeral undertaker and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar is directing, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, February 3, 2021. Photo: Reuters

But with vaccines rolling out, the 53-year-old father-of-four - who like his wife also juggles homeschooling - is most looking forward to the return of McCarthy’s Thursday night traditional music sessions, when he moonlights as a drummer and chief cameraman.

“Playing a session every week is my release. One time I was literally between two funerals and the band said if you don’t play, we’re not playing,” he recalled.

“So I hopped out of the hearse in my suit, hopped behind the drum kit and hopped back into the hearse again and headed off.”

Funeral director and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar and Undertakers prepares a coffin by hammering the crucifix into it before collecting the body of a deceased local man from hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, January 31, 2021. Photo: Reuters

Funeral director and publican Jasper Murphy of McCarthy's Bar and Undertakers prepares a coffin by hammering the crucifix into it before collecting the body of a deceased local man from hospital, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in the County Tipperary town of Fethard, Ireland, January 31, 2021. Photo: Reuters

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