Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese, painted 1555-56
Today is the 34th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI. It is also the 95th death anniversary of Corporal Lawrence Dowd, an older half-brother of my maternal grandmother Annie Dowd Collins. He died in battle near Ieper (Ypres). I was the first relative to locate his grave, in September 2001. Other relatives whom I didn't know personally, independently of me, found it a few years later, learned that I had been there first and contacted me, leading to new friendships and learning more about my Uncle Larry.
Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery where Larry Dowd is buried
I had always thought that Larry was the eldest of the second family of my great-grandfather Michael Dowd. His first wife died. At the age of 35 he married Mary Geraghty who, as my late mother used to put it, 'came in over five children at the age of 19'. But I learned from my newly-discovered cousins that Larry was the youngest of the first family. They have some of his letters, written to his eldest brother, and official documents from the British War Office. I smiled when I learned that he had been demoted from sergeant to corporal over something that had happened on a boat from England to Belgium.
Larry had enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers but had been transferred a number of times, as happened to so many. His birth place is given as Dunleek, Lanarkshire, Scotland. However, that can't be right as we had no connections whatever with Scotland. In his last letter he wrote that he had applied to be moved back to his 'beloved Dubs'. When I was growing up we Dubliners were known as 'jackeens'. But when the Dublin Gaelic football team was so successful in the 1980s the term 'Dubs' more or less replaced it. However, the nickname seems to go back to the Dublin Fusiliers.
At Uncle Larry's grave, September 2001
Ten days after Larry's death the saintly Fr Willie Doyle SJ died in the same battle.
A friend of mine in Dublin says The light of heaven on him whenever he refers to someone who has died. When Peter, James and John went up Mount Tabor with Jesus they caught, ever so briefly, a glimpse of the light of heaven. May it shine on my Uncle Larry and on all who died in that awful war. One of the hopeful things I experienced very strongly when I visited Ieper is that the memory of all the dead who died in the Great War in that area, no matter what side they were on, is held in reverence by the people there. Perhaps in the hell that men created there some saw - and still see - the presence of the Transfigured Christ.
May that be so for all of us.