I’m not sure how many boys started in my junior infants class of Knockea National Primary School in 1980, but I can say that five finished 6th class, with eight girls. Knockea was a mixed Catholic school in Co. Limerick, within the Cahernorry parish. My family discovered late in the day that our house was actually in the Ballybricken parish and my sisters and I should have gone there, but as it stood, we went to Knockea. Five boys finished and I remember them all. We responded to the roll-call every morning with “Anseo,” the Irish for “Here.”
Gerry Burke. Anseo.
Michael Meaney. Anseo.
Neil O’Riordan. Anseo.
Seamus Ryan. Anseo.
Tady Walsh. Anseo.
I know that I started with the five boys I finished with. Like all children, over the course of the eight years in primary school, we had our ups and downs together. I can’t say I was close to any of these guys and I lost contact with most of them when I left for secondary school.
Gerry Burke was a quiet, pleasant individual. Occasionaly, we swapped sandwiches (he always had ham and mustard). We played football on our lunch against the guys in the year ahead of us and when we were the year ahead, we played football against the guys in the year below. We went to cub scouts and then boy scouts together. He came to my birthday parties. I think I went to his. He had two younger sisters Barbara and Georgina, both lovely girls, bubbly and full of fun. The girls in our class looked after them when they started and years later, they looked after my sisters when they came to Knockea. It was a microcosm of the cycle of life. The boys played football, beat each other up, built things and the girls looked after the children, knitted and sewed. We made our communions together like mini marriages. I walked down the aisle with Maria Gleeson and I think Gerry walked down with her twin sister, Triona. Mini brothers-in-law. We made our confirmations together. We lived in each others ears from four years old to twelve.
As luck would have it, Gerry, Neil O’Riordan and I all ended up in the same secondary school, St. Clements, an all boys school on the South Circular Road in Limerick. This was a whole new world to us country boys. In a year of ninty-ish boys we were lost. Ninty-ish became three classes of thirty-ish (Alphonsus, Gerard and Plunkett). I was in Alphonsus and Gerry and Neil were in Gerard. The abbreviated A, G and P classes were distinct. No overlap of classes until after third year. We lost contact, became passing faces in the school yard. After our Intermediate Certificate, our first state exams held at the end of third year, we were offered choices as to the subjects we would take to the Leaving Certificate exams three years later. These exams would dictate where we could go to college, if we wished. My path and Gerry’s crossed again. We took physics together and pass (lower level) Irish. We spoke briefly and sporadically. We had little in common anymore.
After our final exams we all went our seperate ways. Some of us went to college, some went to jobs, others went away. Of the ninty-ish boys that I went to school with, I stayed in contact with one. I studied in Limerick, worked in bars part-time and in the following years, sometimes came across these boys of my youth, now young men. I ran into Gerry again, in the mid 90s. My family had moved to Corbally, just across the Clare border. I met and made friends with some of the local teens and with that, met a girl named Lorraine who’s boyfriend was Gerry (now known as Ger) Burke. We spent some time in the same company, went to nightclubs, hung out, got drunk, had a laugh. Lorraine and Gerry broke up shortly after. I lived abroad for a while, and when I came back, I moved to Dublin and I never lived in Limerick again. I never saw Gerry again either. My mother would ask me at irregular intervals over the coming years if I ever heard from Gerry or saw him, to which I always had to say no.
One night in July, I met an old Clement’s boy on a rugby pitch in Dublin. It was a chance meeting and a pleasant surprise. I asked him how he was and whether he was still in contact with anyone down home or from school. He asked me had I not heard about Gerry Burke.
Gerry’s body was recovered from a canal in Amsterdam on May 9th. My friend had no facts. I initially felt nothing, a slight pang of emptiness that this person I had known in my youth was now gone. The more I thought about it the more empty I felt. I told the one guy I had stayed in contact with from secondary school. In a twitter post later that night, he used a good word: poignant.
I searched online for more information. I found nothing. There are plenty of Gerry Burkes, but not the one I knew. I found an obituary notice on the website of the local Limerick paper. Died tragically in Amsterdam on May 9th. Buried in Co. Limerick on May 22nd. A single condolence on the notice echoed the numb emptiness I felt in his loss.
Working in the world of web design and development, I live in an online world. No information has ever been irretrievable. If there is a record, it is online and like many, I can find it.
There’s no Facebook page, no Bebo account for Gerry that I can find. There’s no news article about his death (a locally-known Limerick cyclist was found dead in Thailand on the same weekend and was written about extensively). Nothing on the TV or radio news websites. Nothing on the local or national papers. Nothing on the Dutch media or police website. No blog posts, no comments to blog posts, no existance of any description online.
I don’t know what happened to Gerry. I have only my memory of him as a child and then a young man. I don’t know anything about him. I do know that if I had passed him on the street with my wife, I would have introduced him to her as my old friend.
I feel he deserves more. More memory. More thought. He deserves to be more than a footnote in our lives. He deserves to be mentioned, to not be ignored. He deserves these thoughts I have of him of friendship and the sadness I feel at the news of his death.
Gerry Burke, died in Amsterdam. Gerry was a friend of mine and I am happy and proud to have known him. I wish him well on his journey and hope he is at peace. I know it will be his family who will remember him with the love and kindness that he deserves. And I hope that everyone who knew him will, at some point in their lives, remember him with fondness.
Gerry Burke. Anseo.
9th July 2010
I wrote this piece in July shortly after I heard the news. Once I had written it, I wanted to make contact with Gerry’s mother and father to ensure that I had their approval before publishing it. I’d like to thank Gerry’s family for their support and approval in my writing about Gerry.