Conor MacDermot died after a short illness at St Luke's Hospital Dublin on Sunday 9th September 2001. Beloved of his family, work colleagues, clan members and his many friends, he will be sadly missed.
Apologia by Conor MacDermot
Written on 26th and 27th August 2001, in Tallaght Hospital, Dublin, a few days after being diagnosed with inoperable and incurable cancer of the oesophagus.
By the time you read this I may already be dead. Many of you who read this will find it an extraordinary statement, in that I am prepared to write about the subject at all. Those of you who know me well will realise how my mind works, in that I’m a realist and do not shrink from saying things the way I see them, even to the extent of being rude at times. I like to say things directly and not to beat about the bush.
I have realised for some time that I have been in declining health, in that I have been finding it more and more difficult to eat. I was finally "persuaded" by a large number of my friends and colleagues at work to see a doctor. Having been prepared already for the worst, it was not such a huge shock as it might seem to be told the worst, that I had inoperable cancer.
I thought it appropriate to write this apologia for the Clan Journal to let you all know how much I personally gained through being involved in the Clan and its Gatherings, particularly from 1996 onwards.
These two points above are important and taken together reveal an important point about the Clan Association. We are an extended family, and by interacting will communicate better between, and learn from, each other. An Irish saying "Ni neart go cur le cheile", there is not strength without unity, is appropriate. The Clan Association won’t flourish if it’s a one sided affair. Although we at home base in Ireland are happy to organise events such as the Gatherings, the Clan Website, Journal and Newsletter, interaction and contributions from Members, however ordinary they may seem, give a flavour of the sort of life MacDermots in other countries live.
The aspect of the Association that really affected me quite fundamentally was in making me diversify my already widespread interest in the "MacDermot Country" into appreciating the landscape and everything on it.
I was using you as "guinea pigs": knowing your interests and the sorts of questions you asked made it much easier to arrange and present information in a way that like-minded visitors (tourists - from wherever) could understand.
So the experience that I gained in assembling information for the Clan Gatherings sent me off in a very fulfilling direction in explaining the things that interested me to a general audience. I’m only sorry that I didn’t have time to follow that side up further.....
This is the point which I think is important about the clan. It is an extended family, and all families thrive on the interactions of their members to develop and become more bonded.
Some reflections about Conor by his brother Niall
In the late 1980s - I can't be even sure of the year, I recall vividly the discussions I had with Conor about computing in general and specifically in relation to the Geological Survey of Ireland, which had fallen somewhat behind the times in the way they managed their vast collection of geological data. He painted a gloomy picture of basements and storerooms filled with heaps of dusty reports and such like which would never see the light of day and wondered if there was some means whereby it could all be brought to light, organized and stored properly. I was able to make a few suggestions and it was not long before he got discussions going at the GSI about the technological 'way forward'. He learned this new discipline thoroughly and became very much an expert in the field, seeing it as an essential tool enabling him to communicate, in words and pictures, his personal and very authoritative view in the Geology, Archaeology, Natural History and the History of his Ireland. His contributions to the MacDermot web site as well as his own and the GSI web sites are a permanent legacy for us all to enjoy.
In the 60's and 70's he would spend the summer months in his caravan in Gort where he could study the limestone of the West of Ireland, occasionally visiting his parents in Portacarron to get a decent meal or some clean clothes. With my mother, he developed a thorough knowledge of the natural history of the Burren and made many local friends in the area. His knowledge eventually widened to include the history and archaeology of the whole area and much of this he has published for us all to enjoy. His field work eventually gave way to other tasks in the GSI and the caravan, by now rather worn and battered, was replaced by a series of second hand vans - we used to call them knacker vans - which became a useful resource for the rest of us for the transportation of large items from one place to another. Many of you will remember Conor's van, where it featured prominently at the Clan Gatherings. The man himself will be remembered as very much the organizer and expert in many of our activities - particularly his walks.
He bought the house in Mullans, Dunlavin in 1981 to be closer to the rest of us and also to provide a home for our parents who lived near Oughterard and were begining to need a bit of help. Having provided much of the advice and a considerable amount of labour in my garden in 1979/80 (where the first couple of year's of potatoes and other vegetables were grown on lazy-beds!!), it was an essential that his new place should enable him to develop this new hobby, and having transplanted our parent's enormous collection of Daffodils and Narcissi - with spares into my garden - he went on to grow World Class Vegetables. His colleagues at the GSI will remember pots and trays of germinating seeds and various plants being grown on in the warmth and sunlight of the Dublin office for eventual transplantation into his or my garden. It was a source of great satisfaction to him that he was able to supply the rest of us with the Right Stuff when the occasion demanded it.
He was very much devoted to his family. We were his bedrock in spite of the fact that he rarely phoned or visited outside the usual occasions of Easter, Christmas or some other event. The fact that he took us all for granted reflects his deeply felt confidence that we were always there for him. His formidable powers of concentration coupled with his self reliance allowed him to apply his whole attention to whatever project was at hand and he would effectively disappear for weeks or even months at a time, incommunicado, either out in his beloved West of Ireland or at Dunlavin with the phone effectively off the hook. He was a very private man, like his father, and to a lesser extent myself, and I know that he found great difficulty in forming personal relationships. It was a source of some astonishment to himself that, during his last illness, so many colleagues and friends visited him in hospital. To quote him; "I had no idea so many people cared." We all cared for dear Conor a great deal and will miss him enormously. He is never far from my thoughts as I walk the Cyprus wilderness and spot an interesting looking rock or a new flower.
May he rest in peace.
Conor Mac Dermot - An appreciation
The following speech was given by the Director of the Geological Survey, Peadar McArdle at the close of Conor's funeral mass at the family church in Monasteraden, in County Sligo, near Ballaghaderreen, on September 13th. 2001. His family and friends agree it captures the man they knew and with permission reproduce it here on the website he helped to develop and maintain.
"On one of my last visits to Conor, the nurse gently warned me: " He might be a little bit difficult this morning". I replied: " Only a little bit? Great!" Yes, Conor could be formidable - and sometimes for as long as a few hours!
That was the Conor we loved, the real Conor. Was he ever impatient? Ever single-minded to the point of obsessiveness? Ever direct in manner or, God forbid, abrasive? I doubt it. Well maybe once or twice - and we loved him for it!
It was during his final (and only) illness that we came to appreciate what a remarkable person he really was, for he had built a screen of privacy around himself during his lifetime. We learned that he had lived a rich and balanced life in which he was fully fulfilled. He drew some complex diagrams while he was in hospital, with lots of intersecting circles. However these distilled his life's remaining objectives with devastating clarity
One circle represented geology and the Geological Survey of Ireland. It is important to say that it was not his most important circle, but it did reflect the fact that he was a scientist to his very core. This is not the occasion to evaluate Conor's scientific contribution. But I want to emphasise that it will be measured, not by the number of his publications or citations, but rather by the number of individuals that he influenced and stimulated to go and seek answers to important questions.
He was a dedicated and knowledgeable scientist, held in high esteem by a wide and international circle of his peers. He also had a passion for communication with the widest public. Earlier this week we concluded that he was a naturalist in the noble tradition of Robert Lloyd Praeger, Frank Mitchell and John Jackson: august company indeed, but he would have been very comfortable in it.
His passion did not stop at geology, it embraced every aspect of nature. I understand he got this broad interest from his mother. It made him a wonderful and inspiring field leader. I was privileged to participate in the last excursion he led, which took place in Mayo as recently as last June. His commitment, enthusiasm and passion were all fully on display. That was the time I personally first realised that all was not well with Conor. Of course, never one to admit these things, he drew me aside to complain about a perfectly healthy member of the party. Conor felt it was that person who was slowing up progress on the rocky foreshore of Mayo!
Let me return to Conor's circles. One represented the wider Mac Dermot clan, for he was genealogist as well as geologist. He had undertaken a very active study of the clan, appreciating its multi-facetted role in history and maintaining its attractive website. He was very proud in recent years to host an international gathering of the clan in the very locality where he is now buried - the beautiful and historical landscape of Lough Gara.
Another circle represented his other interests -and they were many. His photographic database ran to more that 11,000 images. His interest in technology was legendary. His colleagues will recognise that the IT revolution was created for his benefit! He revelled in gadgetry and new techniques. At Tallaght Hospital he realised that geologists use equipment similar in principle to the cat scanner. Both create three-dimensional images, one of the human body, the other of the rocks beneath the ground. Unfortunately for staff, he also realised the limits of their knowledge of this technique. I suspect a few staff in the hospital still nervously anticipate a return visit by Conor to provide an unwelcome seminar on the topic!
Of all his circles, that enclosing his family was by far the most important. He was devoted to his brothers, Hugh and Niall, to Rory and Siobhán, and to all the members of his wide family. In fact he reserved visiting times specially for them, when others (especially colleagues!) would intrude at their peril!
When he was first hospitalized, I noticed that he relaxed visibly after discussing his affairs with his nephew, Rory. He may not have inherited his father's diplomatic skills, but he did have a real appreciation of his family's heritage. He was concerned that memorabilia, scrapbooks and books, especially those from Thailand, would be conserved. He spoke movingly of finding his mother's early diaries and reading of how she met his father on board ship. He was fascinated at how her use of language changed subtly according as the romance blossomed! All of this should be preserved, he felt, and he could rely on his niece, Siobhán, in these matters. She "understood the family" and I believe he meant this as a compliment !
But now his circles have all fallen away, long before they might have been expected to, and all we are left with are some vivid memories: of a dedicated, knowledgeable scientist, always ready to share his skills with others; of a hugely loyal person who was both kind and thoughtful, and whose deeds were many but always silent; of a dear colleague whose infectious enthusiasm engulfed us all, even when we could not quite keep up with them; of a man who harboured no resentment and had neither a malicious bone nor nerve in his body; of a sick man who, as his life shortened dramatically, showed amazing courage and serially re-arranged his priorities while bravely accepting the inevitable.
He knew he had achieved important things and had enviable balance in his life. He was at peace with himself and others. He felt fulfilled and he was calm. He supported us when the reverse should have been the case. We came to realise how privileged we were to have known and worked with him. And forgive me for saying that many of his colleagues showed him that they appreciated this privilege. We will always remember him. We learned how much we loved him and we learned ways of expressing that love.
He enriched our lives and we thank God for that. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam."