Jimmy Corrigan was Not From Red Island; He Was Of It

To the end Jimmy Corrigan’s gentle kindness was his trademark.

People help others but not all of them are kind. Some do it expecting the same in return. Some do things for others expecting even better things in return. Some like to ‘lord it over’ others and reminders of a favour done, however small, are one way to do it.

And then there are people like Jimmy. People who are comfortable inside their skin as-is and who just want others to succeed as well.

Jimmy Corrigan. Image taken by Bernard Mulrooney and linked from http://www.redislandnf.com

I know this. Jimmy and I are both from Red Island, Placentia Bay. At least 5 generations of Barrys made Red Island their home. My Dad was the schoolmaster there for most of his teaching career. Near the end of that career, though, in the mid 60’s it was decided that the islands in Placentia Bay were to be resettled so that the people who lived there could live what the government figured was a better life on the mainland (and, yes, Newfoundland is an Island but to us, who lived out on the small islands, it may as well be the mainland). Dad, then in his sixties, had to leave his ancestral home—the one his father built in the late 1800’s–and start anew in Southern Harbour. I was about 6 at the time.

It was very hard for him moving his family away from the community he loved and had served so well. Our big old house, a three storey affair with a mansard roof, was just too large to move, put on the barge and float to the new place the way so many others did. It had to be left behind and we built a new one in Southern Harbour.

But Dad left a big piece of his heart in the old home. We didn’t take the money offered by the government so, I suppose, we never really did officially leave at all. But the house, like others before it, would surely be vandalized, robbed, maybe even destroyed once the people moved away.

My old home on Red Island, taken 1985. Note the big apple tree in front of the house.

Dad turned to Jimmy for help. Jimmy had no intention of moving away. He loved his life on Red Island. He made a living through fishing in his own open boat. Day after day he would putt putt out through the harbour in his skiff and jig fish. These he would sell, maybe fresh or maybe salted and dried. He grew his own vegetables the traditional way, fertilizing the land  with kelp and capelin. He also kept sheep–same as people always did. Jimmy agreed to keep an eye on the house and Dad gave him the keys to the house, the stage and the store for safekeeping.

And that wonderful, gentle man was true to his word. Our home was safe, thanks to the kindness of Jimmy Corrigan.

The drive out to Placentia is slower than normal. Tropical storm Gabrielle has not even reached us but it is windy and rainy nonetheless with lots of standing water on the highway. Thankfully most of the drivers had chosen to reduce their speed—most had not even engaged the warp drive as would be the norm had hydroplaning not been an issue. I fall in with a line of west-bound traffic doing around 90; fast enough for a day like this. The tourist brochures tend to only show images of the coast, and only on days when the sun is shining. The vast interior is almost completely uninhabited by people. The landscape is rolling, covered mostly with bogs interspersed with stands of mostly conifers but with some leafy trees too: dogberry, alder and, of course, birch. This time of the year the land is brownish-green. The grasses are becoming hay. The deciduous trees are starting to lose their leaves. Grey, foggy days like this one, though, tend to accentuate the greens.

It’s still gloomy.

Placentia is an old community. Old by Newfoundland standards, that is. To the Portuguese and then the French it was Plaisance, “pleasant place.” The town, which was the French capital until 1713 when, according to the terms of the treaty of Utrecht, it was ceded to the British, is sheltered from the worst winds that blow right up Placentia Bay. Fetch is the mariners’ term that refers to the distance over which the wind can blow on the water. For any given wind speed a longer fetch means the wind has more time and distance over which to stir up the waves. In most of Placentia Bay the fetch is all the way to South America so even moderate winds can create choppy seas. Not here, though. Most the surrounding area is built at the edge of a long arm of water than cuts right in through the steep hills that surround it. Even out by the beach things are relatively calm even when the wind is blowing hard.

Down on the ‘beach,’ the oldest part of the community, the road runs right by the houses. There’s not much frontage at all.

This beautifully berry-laden dogberry sends a mixed message. The luscious berries signal we’ve just had good growing season.

Jimmy-corrigan-1

But the old-timers like Jimmy—he was born in 1933—always say that a good crop of dogberries means a hard winter.

jimmy-corrigan-2

The church is just up the road. The wooden building is almost 125 years old and in need of repair on the outside. Placentia is not a rich town. Once the French capital, it was, for around 200 years, the heart of a vibrant French fishery pursued throughout the bay. After the British took control, in 1713 however, it lost much of its original importance. Harbour Grace and St. John’s were assumed to be the main areas. That didn’t dampen things in the community, though, and it continued to be the unofficial capital, at least of the bay.

Around the time of the second world war the US built a naval base in nearby Argentia. The construction and operation of the base gave extra employment to the area as well as an economic boost. The end of the cold war led to the decommissioning of the base but, by that time the Phosphorous refining plant in Long Harbour helped offset, somewhat, the loss of economic viability. That, too, is gone now. New plants from Vale-Inco, first at Argentia and now the new one under construction at Long Harbour bring new found hope to supplement the dwindling fishery. The hope is apparent—repairs are underway.

Wayne, one of two local priests, greets me at the door. I met him while still in second year at University. We shared many laughs in the past but that’s not why we’re here today. I see the other priest, my cousin Jerome. He’s dressed in lay-clothes today and sitting with the choir. He smiles and shakes my hand. I don’t see my extended family  nearly enough these days.

Inside, the church is in good repair. Despite the fact that it’s only a Thursday morning there’s a good-sized crowd here. I take a seat in one of the few empty pews. I look and listen. The mood is somber; people are talking in hushed tones.

Wayne invites people to face the back and the service begins. The rituals play out and people respond through words and gestures that, for many, are almost autonomous; made so by many, many repetitions.

It’s now time for Wayne to give his homily. In the Catholic Church eulogies are not given during the mass of burial—if needed they can happen at some other time. After the gospel is read it is customary, though, for the celebrant to give a short homily; a 10 minute (or so) talk on how the readings can be interpreted for everyday life. I don’t always appreciate homilies. Frequently the words exhort me to suspend my judgment and to use modes of thought that I find flawed in many ways. Sometimes the words harp far too much on what divides us as people and not on what should bring us together.

Not today, though. The themes are kindness, respect, stewardship and heritage—the things that Jimmy stood for. Yes, there is a reference to the Good Shepherd but that’s entirely appropriate. Jimmy looked after his sheep. He also looked after the graveyard…and more besides. The words are not empty; sterile. They flow, rather, rife with exemplars drawn from knowledge of a life lived well. Yes, his mother was  Barry (her name was Mary Barry, same as my sister and cousin) but he was related to the Doheys too. The realization hits me and I look straight at Wayne. I see—as well as hear—sincerity. This is not theatre.

That growing lump in my throat—it signifies that my emotional side is starting to get the better of me. But this is Newfoundland and we don’t grieve in public that way. It’s supposed to be about the gifts that he left us with, not the sadness we feel at the loss. Fortunately this is not my first funeral. There have been too many but I have learned, so I do what I always do. I set my jaw, clench my fists in my jacket pockets and stand into the gale.

After the recessional I talk, at the back of the church, with Berkley. “Will he get his wish?” I ask. “Yes,” is the response, “nine or ten of the guys went up yesterday and got everything ready.” I say, “It couldn’t have been easy, under the circumstances”. I figured it just would not be possible at all, not this time of year, at least.

Outside I see my old friend Ambrose. We talk—for the first time in around forty years. Loss can bring us together again unexpectedly. We’re both grey now. The last time we played—at least in my memory—we tied an old tar bucket to the top rail in Jimmy McCarthy’s store and started it swinging back and forth, pendulum fashion. Ten foot pendulua, though, are hard to control. The chip out of my front tooth is now almost worn smooth…

jimmy-corrigan-3

I get in the car and drive to the wharf. Looks like Jimmy will get his wish after all. I’m still a bit surprised. Even here, in sheltered Placentia, the wind is at about 30 knots. It’s raining too.

But it’s a warm rain. The temperature down here by the wharf is 19 degrees and the rain almost dries off as it lands. Everything—including me—is wet but not soaked through. I talk to Pat, Lucy and Doris as the coffin containing Jimmy’s remains is taken from the hearse and put on board Albert’s boat.

jimmy-corrigan-4

The coffin is laid on some sticks, just in front of the hold. It is draped with a tarp and the flower arrangement is laid above it. These people know what they are doing. The reverence and respect is evident. Though on deck, it is protected and dignified.

I see Patrick, but he does not recognize me. No wonder—it’s been around 40 years and I have changed much in that time. I can still recognize him, though. It’s partly because, at 78, he could pass for someone a decade younger.

But it’s really because of his beaming smile. Funny—he’s just about the same age as Jimmy and he has that exact same gentle loving way about him. A flood of memories: berries, fish, game; Jimmy and Patrick, always coming with something to give. ..and always that beaming smile. When I tell him who I am he immediately begins telling me stories about the past and the present. He’s particularly happy to tell me that the old apple tree that stood in front of our house has made an amazing recovery. It had almost faded to nothing but now it’s producing apples that are better than they ever were—plenty of them.

I think about it for a minute and tell him that maybe the apple tree is a symbol for Red Island. After all, everything comes in cycles and that place has always been well loved. Maybe it, too, is coming back to its glory days. He says, yes, there’s lots of life in the place. Fishers are there just about all the time now. There are loads of houses—seasonal, yes, but still houses—there and parties all the time.

jimmy-corrigan-5

Yes, this is a funeral but I find I’m smiling in spite of myself. Patrick has that effect on people. He jumps–no mean feat for a guy his age–up on the wharf to continue the conversation. We turn and watch as the rest of the crew finishes securing the coffin. Patrick laughs, “Jimmy didn’t use that many knots on the sheep when he brought them across!”

The crew is finished and I take a last look at their work. They have done a good job.  Is it just me or does it look like “The Provider” has Jimmy in its embrace?

It’s time to go. Calvin, Gary and Pat’s boats shove off from the wharf and take position about 100 metres out. Albert casts off too. Another boat joins the flotilla a little ways further on.

These are working vessels. They drink diesel and Red Island is at least 90 minutes away. It’s raining, the wind is up and the water is rough. Altogether there are around 130 people in the flotilla. This is no small gesture.

But a life of kindness and love is being recognized. Nobody has anything to gain from this venture. It’s just that Jimmy was worth it and that’s how people are here.

After the boats pass the lift-bridge I drive over to Argentia to see if I can see them when they clear the headlands and get into the open water. It’s no use. The warm, wet, windy conditions mean that Placentia Bay is shrouded in fog.

Normally you’d see the outline of Red Island from here. It’s around 8 km long and 4 km wide and quite high. Constructed from mostly red granite, except for one smaller part, formed from red sandstone the place name is well deserved. The French, not surprisingly, called it Isle Rouge.

It is a place that is loved. Dad always said “Poor Old Red Island” right up until the day he died. Jimmy never left. He may have died in Placentia but he will get his wish.

Euphemisms; how often they are used off-handedly! We say “passed away,” or, simply, “passed” because we just can’t bring ourselves to say “died.” Some might say he’s “going home” in keeping with the age-old hope for everlasting life. Me, I find it much more palatable to just say the words unless I absolutely know that saying them will certainly cause hurt—in which case I generally choose to remain silent.

This time, though, it feels good to say that Jimmy is going home.

Jimmy Corrigan is getting his wish. He is being buried on Red Island right alongside his mother because, as he put it, “she should not be left alone.”

Jimmy was not from Red Island. He is of it.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
This entry was posted in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

57 Responses to Jimmy Corrigan was Not From Red Island; He Was Of It

  1. Mary says:

    A beautiful tribute for a beautiful soul. He was so kind to our family – did so much for us. It is times like this that I wish I was home,

  2. Martin says:

    Great post Maurice…right from the heart. Thanks for it and Here’s to your friend Jimmy, may he rest in peace.

  3. Kathleen says:

    This is a beautiful story of a life well lived.Well written tribute.

    • Thank you. Yes–a good life.

      • George J. Sturge says:

        This is one amazing story. It was really heart warming. Mr.Barry, I was wondering if you knew a Kevin Barry from Harbour Buffet.I worked with him in the early to mid 60’s at Wabush Mines, Labrador. It’s possible that you could be a relative of his. Just curious!

        • Thank you, George. I do have a cousin named Kevin Barry but he is not the one you know. There was a Kevin Barry from Red Island born around 1946 and maybe he’s the one you know–but I don’t know him. Since he worked in Hr. Buffet there’s also a chance that he was one of the Port Royal Barrys. Port Royal (originally called Mussel Habour) was just over the hill from Hr. Buffet on Long Island and, as far as I know, was the first place in Placentia Bay where they settled. The Red Island Barrys likely moved across from there in the early 1820’s or so but not all of them. All the best in the continued search!

  4. BETTY NORMAN (CLAR) says:

    BEAUTIFUL!

  5. Heather says:

    After reading this article I feel like I knew Jimmy, but I didn’t. What a beautiful way for him to be layed to rest, God Bless all who made it possible.

    • Yes–the Newfoundland Labrador spirit that says: “Let’s just get on with this. Jimmy was our friend.” was so evident, especially from the crew of “The Provider”. It makes me proud to share the earth with those people.

  6. Deneise martin says:

    Beautiful- I’m sure jimmy is happy to know he had such wonderful friends.
    I remember him when I was a small child on Red Island. He was always at our house. Wonderful man. Rest in peace.
    Deneise Martin

  7. littlerhody says:

    Beautiful….eyes filled up more than once….may he rest in peace….

  8. seeker says:

    He is it! That is so heart warming to be the shepherd and companion for his mom. For a while, I thought we wanted to be buried at the sea. God Bless your dear heart, Jimmy. Thank you for sharing this story. Brrr… windy place.

    • Thank you. Windy, yes, but yesterday it was far from cold. The wind was blowing right on us but at around 18 degrees ad very humid it didn’t feel so bad. That said, we can certainly do cold here when the northwest wind starts blowing.

  9. SJ O'Hart says:

    What a beautiful post, and tribute. I will remember your friend Jimmy today, and I’m glad that he is safely home.

  10. Eleanor says:

    This is what its all about…..what a wonderful thing for his friends and family to do….heart warming….and thank you for posting..

  11. Berk & Kay Mulrooney says:

    Beautiful Tribute to Jimmy,Berk was so glad to get to talk to you after The Mass.Just Beautiful.

  12. Gerry Pitcher says:

    Beautiful tribute. I didn’t know Jimmy but I am from Merasheen and I know what it feels like to go home. I’m glad he got to go home for good.

  13. Beautiful Maurice, really. I’m ashamed to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this … as a piece of literature that is. ‘Literature,’ did I say ‘Literature,’ Maurice is writing fine literature … YES INDEED. As it turns out I am anticipating loss as well and in some way this has helped – if help may be had at such times. Another blog I follow posted something very similar the other day … a fond and reverent remembrance of a fine person. I commented there that I hoped, some day in the far off future, that one or two fine sentences may be written about me – I cannot imagine that it will be so. Anyway Maurice, a heartfelt thanks for this moving tribute. D PS: I was just about to hit ‘post’ when I thought … and herein lies the value of community. You were lucky for those years on the (small) island. Often times I see myself as something of a misanthrope … truth be told … but, after reading this morning, I see that there are other ways to sail the seas of life.

    • Thank you. Dave, when I was standing there on the wharf, watching the pall bearers bring Jimmy’s coffin on board the boat and then secure it to the deck it just felt right. You know how it is when coffins are lowered slowly down into the grave–it does nothing to help the soul at all; it just emphasizes the loss. This activity, though, was more in-keeping with the Jimmy we all knew: a job to be done and it will be done well an with dignity. Jimmy’s funeral was a good one because it was really more about the many ways he had helped those around him than it was on sadness. You know what, I don’t want to sound morbid, but when my time comes I would really hope that those who gather around to ‘say goodbye’ do the same–that is, talk about the good times rather than the loss.

  14. jennypellett says:

    A wonderful tribute and remembrance.

  15. johnlmalone says:

    A wonderfully moving tribute to Red Island and to that old timer, Jimmy. It is a little sad though to think that he never married or had children —- there is no mention of this — but I guess some people are happy in their own company while otheres — of whom I am one — feel life is better when shared

    • Jimmy was the kind of person who enjoyed life as-is. While he enjoyed the quiet life on the island, he was no loner. It would be fairly accurate to see him as the quiet guy who liked to hang with the gang but who listened far more than he spoke. When he did speak, though, you listened 🙂

  16. AWESOME bit of writing here!!

  17. Martin says:

    Maurice, this is not about Jimmy C. As tropical storm Gabrielle heads to you, I wish you and your family stay safe. Thinking of all of you on The Rock.

    • Thanks. I think the storm is weakening now so it will be mainly heavy rain showers. It’s 27 degrees out. Whew… Just installed new hardware on daughter’s br door and figure I sweated out a litre. 🙂

      • Donna & Jerome Lambe says:

        My name is Donna Lambe & I am married to Jerome Lambe from Red Island. We spend a lot of time on the Island during the summer. Our children ate quite a few apples from your dad’s apple tree. We live in Jerome’s parents house. We were involved with Jim’s farewell the other day & it was an amazing venture. I want to say thank you so much for sharing your amazing story with us. Your story let those who couldn’t take the journey be a part of it. Jerome said he wished he had know you where here in the area he would of liked to have talked to you maybe next time. Once again thank you for that amazing story..

        • It was my pleasure to be able to write that story. My family owes a debt of gratitude to Jimmy for looking after our house after we left and maybe writing this up is a small thank-you to him from me. I would have loved to have had the chance to talk to Jerome. After I got home I took out the booklet from the funeral and realized that Jerome had been one of the pall bearers in the church–I thought I recognized him but wasn’t sure; it’s been a very, very long time! Hopefully we will get the chance some time in the not-too-distant-future.

  18. This is a moving tribute and beautifully told story, Maurice. I am happy his friends ensured he got his wish.

  19. Vera says:

    Beautiful job Maurice! I didn’t know Mr. Corrigan but i know the spirit of the people from the islands and the strong attachment to home. I’m another cousin and haven’t seen you for many years but wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your article.

    • Hi Vera, for the record it’s been 31 years and the last time was at the Breezeway. I don’t see my family from LH nearly enough.
      Thank you.
      I hope to see you and the rest of my Hann cousins some time soon 🙂

  20. elkement says:

    Beautiful, moving – what can I say! Definitely one of your best posts (though it is hard to pick a favorite).
    I have one question, I hope it is not too trivial or ‘technical’: What was the legal basis of that ‘resettling’? From the naive outsider’s perspective it seems rather cruel to force somebody to leave the place where generations of your family have lived.

    • Thanks, Elke! It was all about money. The communities were small in size–Red Island had around 300-350 residents at the time of resettling and it was decided that it would be better if the people were up-rooted and moved to larger locations on the mainland. In the end, though, I think it was largely a waste of time and money because most of the young people would have moved away on their own, anyway, in search of other work. Besides the type of economy on the islands was one that grows the economy. The products–largely fish–were sold on the international market, thus growing the national economy.

      But at the time the arrogant ‘leaders’ were not in the mood to listen to anything but their own voices.

      And isn’t that always the case…

  21. Jerome Hann says:

    Hey Cuz, you have a flair for writing, good job.

  22. After hearing about this man this morning on the CBC program with Michael Enright, I looked Red Island up and came across your blog. Thank you for putting this together so wonderfully. A great piece of legacy writing. Ken Godevenos, Toronto.

  23. scribblechic says:

    A beautiful remembrance, may we all live such lives that our stories linger long after our goodbyes.

  24. t says:

    I wish more people were equipped, as you are, to write with honesty, honour and dignity about the lives of others, their love of those around them and the land they hail from. Too often the words chosen to remember and celebrate the life of dear friends or family are words from books, not from the heart. Your writing is from the heart and it means so much more.

  25. Tom says:

    My mother in law grew up there.I love the stories.

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