I have been here before, it is beautiful, I love the nature and ambiance here, said Steven Barry, the late Pierce's friend, born Irishman, who passed away last year, and was buried on Thursday at Doci, in Crnač, a village located in the Široki Brijeg county are located in the northern part of the county. It is a 15-minute ride uphill towards the village from the city centre. The road to the village, as you would expect in any proverbial rural area of Herzegovina, is quite narrow. While most of the road is paved with asphalt, there were some sections paved with macadam.
How come that Mr. Pierce McCarthy, a born Irishman, a man who lived and worked in Cappoquin, a place near Cork, and a two-hour drive away from Dublin, was buried in the small Herzegovina village of Crnač?
Giving it a bit of thought or reading on this article could provide anyone with a correct answer to this question…
The Provincial of the Franciscan Province of Herzegovina Fr. Jozo Grbeš gave a speech at Mr. McCarthy's funeral and noted that it is never difficult to speak of a good man, and the late Pierce, as Fr. Jozo said, was a good man. “It pays off to be a man when we see that Jesus is on our side“.
The Irishman fell in love with Herzegovina
Pierce was born in Ireland, but he fell in love with Crnač and the whole of Herzegovina some ten years ago. “Drinks for everyone sitting in each and every corner of the pub (hrv. od kantuna do kantuna, kantun=corner)”, said in Cappoquin some time in 2012 Mr. Željko Jurilj Dikić, a Herzegovina native hailing from Crnač, Široki Brijeg, a charismatic and insightful individual. He had just moved in to that Irish place which, according to his impression, was not bigger than Trilj or Vrgorac. Pierce and Željko met there and immediately clicked.
It was huge for me when I arrived to that place. It is not common for people to move there in order to do the things that I came to do. It is then that Pierce found out that I had come and he was asking around about me because he heard that I was a foreigner and he quickly offered his assistance if I would be in need of it. We met at a local pub which are not difficult to find in Ireland, and I called up the bartender to serve a round on me for each and every corner of the pub, as we are accustomed to doing. To him, this was something out of this world and he could not fathom it. So, we talked, got better acquainted with each other and he would soon come to Herzegovina and fall in love with the region,” recollects Željko his first moments with the late Pierce.
"He had been ill for a long time. Last year, unfortunately, he knew that the end was near. We spent every day in front of our house and threw parties. He loved sitting here alone and contemplate. He truly fell in love with the region and his wish was that when he dies that some of his ashes be laid down here as he was cremated. Above all, he was a good man, we hung out together, every Sunday we had lunch together, every Christmas, every Easter…“, explains Željko.
He also adds that Pierce helped him renovate the interior of his family house in Doci, near the cemetery where he was buried. The interior of the house is decorated in an Irish style while the exterior oozes a sense of Herzegovina and/or Dalmatia. The base, as you can figure, is stonework. The beautiful kind. “He visited a few times, among which was also the occasion of my daughter's wedding and he simply fell in love with the region,“ expands Željko.
Today is the feast day of St. Elias for Catholics. At the local cemetery in Doci, Crnač, there is a mass service which is held annually on St. Elias feast day (hrv. Ilindan). While on the subject, St. Elias is the patron saint of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Incidentally, Pierce was buried on Ilindan.
“Pierce was married twice, as a true Jurilj,” a senior local tells us with a smile on his face at the cemetery after the mass service. The man knew Pierce, but we respect his wish to remain anonymous.
The other local, a bartender at a restaurant in the city, adds that Pierce was baffled by the kindness of the local population. “Materially, he was better off than most of the people here, but the courtesy of the locals was unusual for him, it was something he enjoyed and admired. He could not fathom that someone owed a few acres of land and have no neighbours, what is quite common in the countryside. In Ireland he could not find anything like that, so he fell in love with it, that sense of freedom and the spirit of our people,“ he concludes.
The local priest celebrated a mass at the cemetery. Franciscan Provinicial Fr. Jozo Grbeš managed to find the cemetery and participate in the ritual after briefly getting himself lost on his way to Crnač. It is not an easy task to find the Doci Cemetery if you are not a local. His tardiness was congenial and it fit well in the entire picture. Dense woods surrounding the cemetery, thick unrefined concrete wall surrounding this not quite large cemetery, its edges sharper than the swords of the Middle Ages knights, freshly mowed lawn inside the cemetery gates, non-cultivated flowers which makes you think where you are located, the sound of countless crickets playing wonderful summer melodies and rustling lizards (a snake here and there) in the surrounding bushes in the pleasant 30+ degrees Celsius weather – all these things added a special charm to the ambiance.
And around the cemetery a few sun umbrellas, wooden benches and drinks cooling in barrels. The atmosphere reminds of some festival of (electronic) music which is planned to be held in two or three days. People are drinking rakija or beer, depending on the affinities, and James, another Irishman, a true movie-like, such that Scorsese would pick for the role of Amsterdam Vallon only if he had met him. James Coffey was the late Pierce’s best friend and could be seen talking to someone with his eyes filled with tears.
I let him go, others told me earlier that he was emotionally distraught, so I decide not to paparazzi my way to him so I talk to his interlocutor instead.
Ganga, if I am not mistaken?
While I try to explain to Tim Van Der Knaap, another friend of the late Pierce, the political state of affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, drawing parellels with Northern Ireland, the locals which come here for St. Elias feast day for more than half a century, begin singing their ganga. “This is traditional Herzegovina music,“ I tell Tim, the friend of the buried. “I know“, he cuts me off and adds: “Ganga, if I am not mistaken?“
We laugh it off by agreeing that this is the best funeral to which we have ever gone.
“He is the father of my daughter”, says Pierce’s ex-wife Caroline and adds that to her the setting appears “calm, stunning and magical”. She also mentions that Pierce was “her ex-husband, but also her friend”. She is happy for his decision to have his remains laid here. She is here for the first time, but would like to come back again.
Pierce’s daughter tells me that her father was “a good man, very kind and patient”. She adds with a mournful expression that she is glad that his wish to have his burial in a place which “fulfilled him spiritually”.
After the burial, the grieving gathering (in Herzegovina termed mrtvine, daće or karmine) was held in the family home of Jurilj Dikić, the same that has been previously mentioned. It is the very same place where Pierce enjoyed spending his time with his friends and which he renovated in both Irish and Herzegovinian style.
The base, as you have figured, is stonework. Today or tomorrow we are all destined to lay beneath stone. If we could only have friends such as the late Pierce. Rest in peace.
More photo and croatian version HERE