We sat in small groups on gravestones kerbing at Ballintubber Abbey last Sunday waiting for the hearse to arrive with Mick Cuffe’s remains. Talk was muted. Sorrow is a great silencer. Perhaps an hour passed. The sun beat down relentlessly causing beads of sweat to form on foreheads. The mounds of soil, which had been excavated from Mick’s grave, started off as dark brown. It soon had turned light grey in colour.
A voice broke our reverie. "Typical Mick, always late". We smiled, grateful for the witty interruption. How often had we waited for Mick, to appear on stage, open up his shoulders to a low-slung bass guitar and let his vocal chords fly full pitch into one of his favourites, perhaps "Carmen"? "Tonight I am aching, my body is breaking, Tonight Carmen's coming back home…"
Today, Mick was running a bit late again but nature’s orchestra- the songbirds of the ancient Abbey as they flitted from bush to bush - were a magnificent support act. As we continued to wait by Mick’s grave, the sides of which had been neatly lined with cuttings of palm trees, my mind wandered back to laughter filled evenings.
There was once in Dublin, circa 1981, when Mick, up from Mayo, with some promoters who hoped to launch him into the "big time", mesmerised the patrons of Conway’s pub (opposite the Rotunda Hospital) with his storytelling ability. "Jaysus, another Brendan Grace", remarked one appreciative listener. He was right. Except Mick Cuffe wasn’t that interested in being famous. As soon as he could possibly escape Mick was back in Mayo on the familiar pub and lounge circuit.
The last time I met Mick was in Mayo General Hospital about three weeks before his death on Friday last. He was sleeping but opened his eyes to his two visitors, shook their hands, smiled, and went back to sleep again. I didn’t think I would see him alive again.
Mick always took delight in confounding predictions, especially as far as his health was concerned. Not alone did he leave hospital but he attended a wedding, a funeral as well as beating one of his friends, Gay Reilly, in a game of pool.
Martin Molloy announced the arrival of the remains at Ballintubber Abbey with a blast of pipes. On one of the hottest days of the year, Mick Cuffe, the man who made us laugh so often, caused us to cry and the tears fell so copiously you could almost hear them thudding onto the rich soil of the ancient burial place.
Tom Shiel. Conn Telegraph 18th September, 2002