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How a Galway community saved one of their own from an unmarked burial

It all started with an obituary placed in the Galway Advertiser.

sean parker Source: Twitter

THE DEATH OF Sean Parker in Medway, England, could have gone unnoticed.

He was a man in his 80s, originally from Ireland but living in the UK for most of his life. He lived in a nursing home, and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

He had no known family, never married, and had at times been homeless.

But his lonely death united the community of Glinsk, as they sought to bring him home to be buried near his mother.

A fund, the Sean Parker Fund, has even been set up in his name. Locals will use the money raised to donate to homeless people in London and Ireland.

Where it all began

The first public mention of Sean Parker’s death came in September, when an obituary placed in the Galway Advertiser was shared on Twitter.

It was an appeal from Medway Council to trace friends or family of Sean’s, placed in the paper by Paul Edwards, Bereavement and Registration Services Manager at the council.

He told TheJournal.ie that they hoped they could get people who knew Sean to attend the funeral, or possibly repatriate him.

Under UK public health legislation, if somebody dies in the community without family, the local authority has a duty to make those funeral arrangements.

If no family burial site, or way to repatriate Parker was found, he would have had a local authority funeral, and been buried in an unmarked grave.

mickie-grady-who-remembers-the-parker-family-when-they-resided-in-glinsk-630x420 (1) Mickie Grady, who remembers the Parker family when they resided in Glinsk. Source: Marty Ward

The story was discussed on RTÉ Radio 1′s show Liveline, and that was when the Glinsk connection was made. Locals in Glinsk, which is a small Galway town, began to suspect that Parker was one of their own.

Marty Ward, one of the locals, fervently researched Parker’s family history.

They knew that Sean left Ireland at 18, that he was taught in a Catholic school, that he lived in a house for homeless people in London, and that he was vulnerable at times in his life.

Ward discovered that a Sean Parker had left Glinsk in around 1945 or 1946, and that he was remembered locally as having parents named John and Annie.

Sean’s mother died when he was 10. She was buried in Glinsk, and the family moved on.

Ward said that Sean’s story “really touched people”, with meetings of the parish and community councils called to discuss the issue. Glinsk had seen lots of emigration, and Ward said that many who left “were poorly prepared for life overseas”.

james-shevlin-former-principal-of-ballincurry-ns-points-to-the-name-of-sean-parker-in-the-old-roll-book-630x420 (1) James Shevlin, former Principal of Ballincurry NS, points to the name of Seán Parker in the old Roll Book Source: Marty Ward

The story also resonated with them due to the recent wave of emigration again hitting Glinsk.

TheJournal.ie put Ward and Medway Council in touch, and soon arrangements were being made for Sean Parker’s repatriation.

As the research progressed, Marty Ward filled us in on the latest discoveries:

He told how he has been in contact with people at Ancestry.com in Salt Lake City in Utah, USA, who have helped to locate the birth record for Sean’s sister Bridget.“At that time, the family were living in Williamstown,” said Ward. This area is very near Glinsk. Bridget died in England, also unmarried, at the age of 70 in 2003.They also believe another sister, Margaret – known as Peggy – lived in Ballaghaderreen, where her family had a butcher’s shop.

He said that a “huge amount” of time and research had gone into finding Sean’s family, and they were confident they had found the right man.

Bringing him home

On the morning of 7 October, a group of people travelled from Glinsk to Knock Airport. There, they awaited a flight from London, which contained the remains of Sean Parker.

He was finally coming home.

“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 the day before.

The poignant ceremony involved locals bringing offertory gifts and reading prayers. “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,” said Ward.

The story even drew comments from locals, who remembered hearing about the young Sean:

sean-parker-comment-630x247

It was a story began with the sadness of a death, but ended in the uniting of a community. Sean Parker didn’t have to be buried miles from home, thanks to those who wanted to bring him back.

Whatever his struggles in life, in death he was near family once more, buried near his mother.

Read: Community rallies to save ‘our Sean’ from unmarked burial in England>

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

Read: Galway community saves “Our Sean” from lonely burial in England>

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