The Singing Undertaker – remembering Seamus Harkin

me and seamus Oct 11
Seamus Harkin, 1935 – 2014. My father-in-law.

Born the third of five children in 1935 to a farming family in Creeslough Seamus Harkin, my father-in-law, left school at 14.  He never really got on with the teacher, who thought nothing of raising the sally rod when he didn’t match up.

After school he worked as a farmer, a Donegal County Council worker, a forester in his native Ards Forest Park and an insurance sales man.  A natural story teller, Seamus could paint a picture with words.  He held many clear memories of the people he met and the houses he visited on those travels around the county, selling insurance.

It was when he became the undertaker for Creeslough in the mid 1980’s that he met his true vocation.  A man of great personal faith, he was also extremely kind and had the immeasurable skill of being able to find the right words of comfort at the saddest times.  His dependable, solid presence and strong professionalism supported many families through their loved ones’ wakes and funerals.

Yet, with a voice like Johnny Cash and an ear for a great tune, it is as a singer in the pubs and music venues in Donegal that Seamus will be remembered by most.  He loved to sing and play his guitar and he entertained many a crowd, big and small, over the years.  He was in his mid 70’s when he wrote one of his most popular songs, No Tow Bar on the Back of a Hearse.

A man with many strings to his bow, his passion for music extended to instruments and he was a much sought after fiddle repair man by people from all over Ireland.

Seamus’ ability to weave a good yarn and his pride in his birthplace were the drivers for him telling his life story in his book, It Took a Lifetime.  One of six books he published, it is the personal memoirs of a man who knew the true value of life and lived his to the full.

As a strong believer in charity, Seamus actively supported local causes and, in 2010, he was awarded Donegal Rehab Person of the Year.  In 2013 his (self taught) technology skills were recognised with an Age Action/Google Silver Surfer of the Year award.

Whilst recovering from hospital treatment earlier this year Seamus wrote what became his last poem, The Man with the Clock Inside his Chest.

Seamus passed away on 2 May 2014.  He is pre-deceased by his baby son Paschal and brother John, and survived by his wife Tessie, sons Leo, Mark, Paul and James and daughter Edel, together with five grandchildren, three daughters-in-law, his sisters Mary and Nora and his brother Hugh.

The Man with the Clock Inside his Chest

by Seamus Harkin, February 2014

He was doing fine but now and then his heart would skip a beat,
He didn’t think much about it, could be the summer heat.
Then it would start to flutter, and do queer things in his chest,
So he thought it might be better to go and have a test.

They took him to the hospital and they laid him on a slab,
They said do not be worried you will feel a little jab,
They put a pipe into his heart, and had a look around,
Then they took him to another place to have an ultra sound.

They said your heart is jumping and the rhythm out of line,
We will put a little clock in you to put it back in time.
He said where will you put it will I have to wind the spring,
They said it goes on batteries you won’t have to do a thing.

They laid him on a slab again, and they opened up his chest,
They cut a little pocket there just underneath his vest,
They put the little clock inside which was wired to his heart,
So if his heart would ever stop, the clock would make it start.

So now he’s back at home again like a real bionic man,
His wife does not know what to do, should she even hold his hand,
He is running up the hill side, he never seems to rest,
There is no one who can match the man, with the clock inside his chest.

After writing this poem Seamus then wrote his seventh book.  Provisionally titled The Candy Man, it features a collection of memories and tall stories passed down to him by his father, Hughie Harkin.

And, as if to prove that the Harkin literary gene lives on, my own son penned this poem, which he delivered faultlessly at Seamus’ burial.

My Grandad

by Finn Harkin, 5 May 2014

My grandad was my superhero
On my chart he was a 1 – 0
My grandad love the trees
He loved his honey and his bees
Grandad had a loving heart inside his loving chest
We’ll miss you Grandad, because you’re the best


5 thoughts on “The Singing Undertaker – remembering Seamus Harkin”

  1. What a wonderful piece, Janet. Seamus was a wonderful human being who will be greatly missed by all of us. Sadie

  2. That is really nice peom he wrote, I got to know seamus when he was in ccu in hospital, I was one of the catering attendings on the ward, lovely man, really enjoyed him and he kept everybody talking, got a shock when I heard he passed away, may he rest in peace, margaret

  3. So sorry to hear about Seamus we were away when we got the news and missed the funeral he was a true Gentleman with the kindest heart and had time for everyone Creeslough has lost a true friend we shall all miss him but not as much as his devoted family .

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