Living and Dying in Limerick

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Frank with the two casks containing the ashes of the aunt of Gina LLollabrigida and the Co. Limerick colonel

Frank Thompson, one of Limericks oldest established Funeral Undertakers, was born at 43 Roches Street on the 30th. of November 1919. He had an unusual birth because he was born with a broken leg which resulted from a beating his mother received from the Black and Tans when they broke into his house looking for an uncle of his who was prominent in the Republican movement. Here, in his own words, is a brief summary of his life and times.

I had wonderful parents and one brother, John, who later became a leading architect in Ireland. I had two sisters, Madge and Maureen.

I was educated at CBS Sexton Street and later did a course in book keeping, typing and shorthand.

I began work with my father Christopher Thompson Funeral Director in the year 1938 and I am still working. I began making coffins, polishing, upholstering etc. and gradually went out on funerals. Since my beginning I have carried out the supervision of thousands of funerals, five major air disasters including one in Galway with the loss of 101 lives. The plane exploded 100 miles out in the Atlantic and the remains were taken to the Regional Hospital in Galway where I took over. At the time we sent back about half of the victims to different countries and buried the rest in Galway until they were properly identified. After about two years (1950) I had them exhumed and recoffined and sent back to their own countries. Exhumations often occur because of errors in graves etc.

There was also the Rhodes, Greece fire disaster in 1972 in which three Limerick girls lost their lives. I flew out to help identify them and arrange to have their bodies brought home. When I got there I was asked to help with the other 29 victims, which I gladly did. Eventually all the victims were identified and returned to their own countries for burial.

Cremations are becoming more popular as time goes on. I remember almost 45 years ago carrying out two cremations. One was an old lady from America. It was mentioned at the time that she was an aunt of Gina Llollabridgida the famous actress. I still have her cremated remains as noone ever collected her ashes. I also had an old Colonel from Co. Limerick cremated at that time and I still have his ashes after all these years.

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Thompsons in the early part of the last century

Being an undertaker is a very hard business as one is constantly on call. But it’s also very satisfying to be able to help those who so badly need it. I find that once you meet a family in these circumstances and try your best to ease their burden, they never forget it. I have met people in Limerick and different parts of Ireland and on holidays abroad who would say to me how they appreciated my help in the time of their grief. And it’s nice to hear that.

I tried to retire a few years ago after sixty years working but I found I still wanted to meet people and so I’m still as active as ever meeting the bereaved and old friends too.

About two years ago Radio Limerick asked me along to their studio to have a chat about my life and times. We talked for two hours and got a lot of interest from listeners. The interview was recorded and I got a copy and ended up giving away over 500 copies to people who wanted it. There were a lot of funny stories that listeners seemed to enjoy.

I remember one story which involved the late Donough O’Malley TD. We were in Kilkee one August weekend over 50 years ago, at Burns Cove. He asked me to go for a swim with him across the bay. I told him I had already been swimming but he insisted and so we set off. When we arrived at the other side he asked me if I had aranged to have our clothes brought over by some of the lads. When I said no he jumped back into the water and started back over. I had to jump in too and swim back to Burns with him. If we had got into difficulties we were sunk, if you’ll pardon the pun. I remember my mother asking me later if I knew who the two brats were who swam over and back to Big Bay. I, naturally said no Mam.

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