Tag Archives: Seamus Harkin

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


Padraig Pearse, the cart and an old song book

Seamus Harkin book launch Aug 11
left to right: Dermot MacIntyre, Tessie and Seamus Harkin, Mairead Mooney

Donegal historian and author, Seamus Harkin, has recently updated and reissued a book of songs and poems first published over a century ago by Neil McBride from Creeslough.

The photo above shows Seamus with his wife, Tessie together with Dermot MacIntyre and Mairead Mooney who both helped to launch the book.

As well as a published author Neil McBride is known as the only person ever to be defended in court by Padraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising.

This seemingly unlikely event in Irish history happened as a result of the banned use of the Irish language at that time.  In early 1900’s all carts had to display the name of the owner as an early form of vehicle registration and Neil, with the help of his friend Andrew MacIntyre, fashioned his  name plate out of an old cocoa tin and put his name on in Irish.

As a Neil was deemed to have broken the law because his name plate was illegible (it wasn’t in English) and therefore illegal.  He was fined 1 shilling at Dunfanaghy Parish Sessions. 

Feeling aggrieved on his friend’s behalf Andrew felt passionately that Neil should appeal his fine and so approached another friend and local fellow member of the Gaelic  League, Padraig Pearse, to see what could be done.

Pearse agreed to defend Neil McBride for free but, as history shows, this was his one and only time in court and he lost the case.

Fast forward to different times and, in his 1996 ‘Poets and People of Doe’ book, Seamus featured work by Neil Mc Bride.  As a fellow Creeslough man he was interested in Neil’s work and therefore thrilled when he came across a copy of Neil’s book from 1905, called ‘Blta Fraoic’ or ‘Heather Blossoms’, which had been out of print for years.
Seamus says “Because this book is of cultural importance it deserves to be re-printed so that more people can see this great work.  My reason for printing this book is to let people, especially the young, know the great wealth of talent we had in the parish.”
Two extra songs, which Neil had not composed when the original book was published, are added to the new version of the book.

‘Noreen Bawn’ is a song that tells the sad tale of young people having to emigrate and sometimes, as in Noreen’s case, returning with scarlet fever or tuberculosis.  Seamus says this song is as relevant today as ever it was, though perhaps without the illnesses.

The other song to be inclulded is ‘The Castle of Doe’ which is a legendary story of how the castle, just outside Creeslough, was built.

“Music, singing, storytelling and local history form a large part of my life,” says Seamus.  “For most of my life I have been an entertainer in one way or another so I understand the importance of Neil’s work.  I’m delighted to play my part in bringing his work to new audiences.”
The launch of the republished book took place in The County Museum, Letterkenny on Friday the 5th August by Donegal Person of the Year 2009 and Altan frontwoman, Mairead Mooney.

Also helping to launch the book was Dermot MacIntyre, son of Andrew.  He said “I’m delighted to be here as a neighbour and friend of Seamus Harkin.”
Any profit made from the sale of the book will be donated to the Muckish Project which is dedicated to the ongoing upgrading of the road and car park at the foot of Muckish Mountain.
Seamus explains, “As Neil lived at the foot of Cruckathee, in the shadow of Muckish Mountain, I think this is a fitting place to spend the proceeds of his book.”

Leave me a comment in the box below if you’re interested in buying a copy of the book.  They’re on sale for €5 (£4).