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Galway community saves "Our Sean" from lonely burial in England

Sean was born in Ireland and moved to London at the age of 18. He died alone with no family. Now he is to be buried in Galway.

sean parker Source: Joe Duffy via Twitter

THIS MORNING, A group of people will travel to Knock Airport from the small town of Glinsk in Galway.

There, they will await a very special flight that is coming from London. On board are the remains of the late Sean Parker, who died in England in July and whose body has been waiting to be claimed since then.

If locals from Glinsk hadn’t heard of Sean’s story, and been determined to reunite him with home, the Irishman would have been buried in what is effectively an unmarked grave.

“We’re looking forward to the plane touching down. I suppose when this story started out, we never thought it would come to his ending, so we’re delighted it’s a story with a happy ending,” said Marty Ward, a Glinsk local and former school principal who was heavily involved in tracing Sean’s Galway roots.

“It’s an uplifting story.”

Taking part in tomorrow’s funeral ceremony – bringing the offertory gifts, reading prayers – will be locals who remember Sean and his family. “I think it’s going to be very poignant,” remarked Ward.

“It’s hard to believe that the simple life of Sean has led to such an outpouring of generosity and help from so many people.”

Seán Parker’s story

The community here in Glinsk feel at all possible if it can be verified that Sean is, as we say, if he’s ‘our Sean’ that that the body be repatriated. – Marty Ward

james-shevlin-former-principal-of-ballincurry-ns-points-to-the-name-of-sean-parker-in-the-old-roll-book-630x420 (1) Source: Marty Ward

Sean was born in Galway, where he was taught in a Catholic school by monks and possibly spent time in Artane Industrial School.

He had a few illnesses growing up, and his school attendance was patchy.

He left Ireland at the age of 18 and moved to London, where he lived in Hopkinson House for a time, which is a house for single homeless people. He never married or had children.

He seems to have been quite vulnerable at times in his life, calling to churches to get food, and being beaten up and mugged on the streets. At the end of his life, he lived in a home near Medway.

“By all accounts he was a loved member of the home,” said Paul Edwards, Bereavement and Registration Services Manager at Medway Council.

Sean’s death

Sean died en route to hospital from the home.

In cases like this, the coroner’s office tries to locate the person’s family. But if this isn’t possible, it sends the details to the council so it can try and find out more.

If no family burial site, or way to repatriate Sean was found, he would have had a local authority funeral. The grave would not have been marked by a headstone.

Medway Council wanted to find out more about Sean, to see if it could find family or friends to attend Sean’s funeral, or to repatriate him.

So Edwards put this ad in the Galway Advertiser:

Soon, the word was being spread online, which is when the media took up the story, including Joe Duffy’s Liveline show.

One of the callers to Liveline was Marty Ward. A friend of his in Glinsk, Jimmy O’Toole, had thought he recognised the name Sean Parker, and suspected he had grown up in or near Glinsk.

This kicked off a community-led effort to discover if Sean was “their Sean”, and if he was, to bring him home.

Locals remembered the Parkers living in the townland of Balincurry in Glinsk. They also remembered:

  •  A Sean Parker had left Glinsk in around 1945 or 1946, at the age of about 10 or 12.
  • This Sean had sisters and an older brother, and they lived with their parents locally.
  • His father is believed to have been in the British Army and fought in WW1, and was missing the thumb of his left hand.

Ward told TheJournal.ie they looked up baptismal and school records, which showed them that Sean wasn’t baptised in Glinsk, which meant that he moved there after his birth.

mickie-grady-who-remembers-the-parker-family-when-they-resided-in-glinsk-630x420 Mickie Grady, who remembers the Parker family when they lived in Glinsk. Source: Marty Ward

Said Ward:

In England they believed that his birthday was 8 February 1935. When we checked records here for the month of February in 1935, and we checked with the great help of the general registry office in Roscommon, they found that there were actually two people of that name born in the month of February in Ireland.

One of them was a Sean Parker who was born in Dunmore in Co Galway, which is just up the road from Glinsk – though he was born on 7, not 8, February.

But his parents also had the names that locals remembered: John and Annie.

Annie died when Sean was 10, and was buried in a local graveyard.

After that sad incident, the family left Glinsk. Sean had to leave his treasured dog, Terry, behind with his neighbour, Mrs Grady.

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sean parker comment

The story really touched the people in Glinsk, who held parish council and community council meetings to discuss what they could do for Sean.

Ward said that locals “feel a great sort of resonance with this story and with whom we think is one of our own being in an uncomfortable morgue in England”.

It also made them think about emigration and the effect that has had on the town, with locals not realising that vulnerable people like Sean were alone in England.

Bringing him home

After weeks of research, the Glinsk locals are satisfied that Sean Parker is their Sean. They’ve been in touch with Medway Council, and now Sean is going to be brought back home.

He will be buried near his mother. It’s a bittersweet time for all involved.

Ward said:

“On behalf of the Glinsk Community I wish to thank everybody who has co-operated so fully and assisted in every way possible to bring this story to a successful conclusion.

“Here in Glinsk, we are overwhelmed by the level of support from so many people and agencies – all of which will ensure that Seán Parker will be laid to rest, in dignity, close to the remains of his mother in Ballinakill Graveyard here in Glinsk.”

at-glinsk-castle-mickie-grady-jimmy-toole-john-cunniffe-and-marty-ward-at-glinsk-castle-as-they-think-of-sean-parker-630x420 (1) Mickie Grady, Jimmy Toole, John Cunniffe and Marty Ward at Glinsk Castle Source: Marty Ward

At a meeting last week, it was decided that the undertaker and many community members will receive the remains of Sean at Knock Airport today.

Sean will then be brought to Glinsk Church and the body will be received there at 3pm, by Parish Priest, Fr John McCarthy.

The remains of Seán will rest in Glinsk Church tonight and the funeral Mass will be celebrated at 12 noon tomorrow.

“It is significant that a number of people who remember Seán and his family here in Glinsk will be participating in the Funeral Mass,” said Ward.

It has been a long journey home, but Sean Parker will finally be back among his community, and family.

Read: “Our Sean” could take final journey next week to be buried next to his mum

Read: No lonely funeral for Sean – plans underway to bury him next to his mum>

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