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Community rallies to save 'our Sean' from unmarked burial in England

Locals in Glinsk are hoping that a Sean Parker, who died in England, grew up in their town, so he can be repatriated.

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

A GALWAY TOWN has been united by the death of a man who they believe is ‘one of ours’.

Sean Parker died on 22 July of this year at the age of 79 near Medway, England. He had never married, had no family, and spent the last years of his life in a nursing home.

Now the search is on to find out where he is originally from in Co Galway, to see if he can be repatriated and buried on home soil.

The ad that inspired the search

Sean’s story came to light after an advert was placed in the Galway Advertiser newspaper by Medway Council.

Paul Edwards is Bereavement and Registration Services Manager at Medway Council, and told that he was overwhelmed by the interest in Parker’s story.

Over here in Ireland, Marty Ward – who put in touch with Medway Council – has been working hard to try and discover if Sean Parker lived for 10 years of his life in the town of Ballincurry in Glinsk, Co Galway.

Why the ad was put in the paper

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

Medway Council has to do this about 10 – 20 times a year, usually for men of an elderly age, but sometimes for women too.

Sean Parker died en route to hospital from the residential home where he lived. In such cases, the coroner’s office tries to locate the person’s family, and if this isn’t possible, it sends the details to the council.

If no family burial site, or way to repatriate Parker, is found, he will have a local authority funeral, which would include a Catholic ceremony, a standard coffin, and being brought to the cemetery in a hearse.

“There may or may not be a priest, vicar or celebrant present at these funerals,” explained Edwards. The grave would not be marked by a headstone.

“Very rarely do we get such a response to an obituary,” said Edwards.

He has heard from more media than family members, though one woman emailed to say she has been contacted by relatives in Ireland, and she will attend the funeral if necessary.

What the council knows about Sean Parker

Edwards said the council was told that:

  • Sean was 18 when he left Ireland
  • He was born in Galway
  • He never married or had children
  • He moved to London after leaving Ireland
  • He lived in Hopkinson House in London for a time – this is a house for single homeless people
  • He was taught in a Catholic school by monks
  • On some occasions he was beaten up and mugged
  • He also went to churches to look for food
  • He had a few illnesses

It appears that Sean was quite vulnerable at times in his life. But at the home, he seemed to have found a ‘family’.

“By all accounts he was a loved member of the home,” said Edwards.

The staff told him Parker liked bananas, Malteasers and cans of Guinness, and that he told them stories about his life.

Edwards said it “would be fantastic” to have family or friends attend a burial, or have Sean repatriated. “It would be lovely if we could reunite him with mum and dad.”

He is currently in a mortuary in Medway, with the funeral pencilled in for 30 September.

The council is encouraging anybody with information to get in touch with them. Details are at the bottom of this article.

Researching Sean Parker’s past

Glinsk_castle Glinsk Castle Source: Wikipedia

While Paul Edwards has been busy trying to find out more about Sean, so has Marty Ward, a former principal of Glinsk National School.

A local man heard about the story on the radio, and “immediately remembered there was a family of that name in the area”, said Ward.

Local people chatting about Sean remembered the Parkers living in the townland of Balincurry in Glinsk.

  • They also remembered that 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.

Next steps

Ward went and looked at the baptismal records in Glinsk.

“I assumed if Sean went to school in Ballincurry National School he was baptised here,” said Ward.

“But there was no baptism records of Sean or any of his siblings, which means he came into Glinsk sometime after 1935 because he was born in 1935.

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 – but he was born on 7, not 8, February.

“So, very, very close,” said Ward – the other Parker had been born in Dublin towards the end of February, and the parents’ names were slightly different.

The Sean who was born in Dunmore had parents named on his birth cert as John and Annie. “That is remembered locally of being the names of the parents of this particular Sean who lived here in Glinsk,” said Ward.

Sean’s early life

Locals remember that the Sean Parker in Glinsk lost his mother young – she died at the age of 50 in 1945, at the hospital in Galway.

“Which must have been a great tragedy for the family. She was buried in the local graveyard,” said Ward.

“She died on 17 April 1945 in what was then described as the central hospital in Galway, which would be today the same as the regional hospital in Galway.”

Shortly after Annie Parker’s death, the family left Ballincurry in Glinsk – leaving one treasured family member behind them, said Ward.

Before he left, Sean had one very proud possession, which was a little rusty terrier that he was regularly seen with and that he had named Terry because he was a terrier. But seemingly in going away Sean knew that he couldn’t take the little dog with him but was very concerned that his dog would be well looked after.
He went to his neighbour’s house, Mrs Grady, who was kind to the family and kind to him, and he asked her to take care of the dog, which she did. And she had the dog for a number of years after that.

The young Sean didn’t have very good attendance at school, according to records from Ballincurry National School.

Going to London would have presented new opportunities, but it didn’t quite work out for him.

“It is believed he lived on the streets of London through the years,” said Ward. “He hit on some hard times.”

The local people are hoping that they’ve found ‘their Sean’, said Ward.

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, and already some companies in England have come forward to say they would help with the undertaking costs and costs to transport. Likewise on this side of the Irish sea – two undertakers have come forward to say that they would be more than willing to do all of the undertaking here.

Uniting a community

“It has really touched people,” said Ward of Sean Parker’s story. Meetings of the parish council and the community council were held this week to discuss the issue.

People “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,” said Ward.

During the 1940s, the area saw lots of emigration. “Many would have gone and were poorly prepared for life overseas,” said Ward.

The story also resonates because “the majority of families around here are just experiencing the sadness of emigration all over again”.

Further research

Em5_Artane_IndusNA06-068 Artane Industrial School Source: The National Archives of Ireland/Davison

There are questions over whether Sean Parker was in Artane Industrial School, given that he said he was educated by monks, and two locals remember that the Sean who lived in Glinsk went to Artane.

This is an avenue being pursued by Ward in his research.

For now, the research will continue, as the Glinsk community rallies around to find out if they have indeed found ‘their Sean’ – and if they can return him home.

If you believe you have information on Sean Parker, you can contact Paul Edwards at Medway Council (with full confidentiality) on 0044 1634337744.

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