SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Caitlin McLoughlin kept moving. It was going to be close.
Her feet, between splashing through puddles, beat down on the damp pavement of Clonmel, Ireland’s streets.
She needed to be with her friend, Tara Mulroy.
Mulroy and her family were grieving the loss of Maria, Tara’s sister and Peter, Tara’s father.
Maria died on Oct. 25, after fighting an illness for 24 days. Peter, who had been ill, in home care, in his native Ireland, died just five days after learning of his daughter’s passing, Oct. 30.
“I did get to see my sister and hold her hand as she passed and then my father, as he passed.” Tara said. “Within five days, he was gone. I think he just died of a broken heart. Wanted to go to his oldest daughter.”
Just 18 hours prior to running through the rain, McLoughlin was home in the United States.
Now, she was just three blocks away from where she needed to be.
In McLoughlin’s arms, was Maria’s ashes.
McLoughlin’s only point of yielding was stopping to ask locals if she was any closer to her destination: the Church Of Saints Peter And Paul.
This was the cathedral where Peter’s service was being held.
Peter passed on a Sunday. Maria’s wake was on a Tuesday, in Wakefield, with her funeral the next day. Due to the time zone differential, Peter’s wake was held on the same date, on a Tuesday.
McLoughlin wanted to deliver Maria’s urn so she could be reunited with her father at his funeral.
Hours before a 105-minute taxi ride from Shannon to Clonmel and a last-minute flight out of Boston’s Logan Airport, McLoughlin had been at Maria’s service.
Tara could not be present because she needed to go say goodbye to her father, when his health was failing.
Ever the tight-knit community, and a town where Peter was the unofficial mayor — according to McLoughlin — residents of Clonmel watched streamed footage of Maria’s mass with Tara.
“I had called Caitlin and I said, ‘Look, you have to kind of be me for my sister’s funeral,’” Tara said. “So, she was at my sister’s funeral and kind of stood in for me for that. And kind of explained to people why I actually wasn’t there because I was back in Ireland with my father.”
But if she wanted to connect the family’s two celebrations of life, McLoughlin would need to get over there.
With permission from Maria’s four children to take some ashes from their mother’s urn, McLoughlin began the journey.
McLoughlin met Tara Mulroy at 14 years old, while working at Joyce’s Family Pub in Matunuck. Her uncle owned the venue at the time and Mulroy was working as his first-ever woman bartender.
McLoughlin, on her first day there, was working in the kitchen when Mulroy clocked in at 8:30 p.m. for her 9 p.m. Friday shift.
McLoughlin remembers shaking her hand before Mulroy asked her to put in some fish for her.
Fridays were all-you-can-eat fish and chips for $7.95 — baked fish with breadcrumbs and butter.
“OK, well, it only takes 20 minutes,” McLoughlin said.
Mulroy opened the ice machine, the door snapping and the scoop crunching loudly through the frozen water as she fetched it for the bar.
Her instruction that followed was direct.
“Put it in until it flakes all apart. I’ll come back and tell you when to take it out.”
McLoughlin said it was then when she learned Mulroy liked everything well done.
In 2008, Mulroy bought the pub from McLoughlin’s family. Mulroy and McLoughlin ran a newly anointed Tara’s Family Pub together for over 10 years.
“And we’ve just been best friends ever since,” McLoughlin said.
An easy choice
A few days after Maria Mulroy died, Tara called McLoughlin from Ireland on a Sunday morning.
“I picked up the phone and there was just – she didn’t say anything – and I just knew that her father had passed away,” McLoughlin said. “To be honest, in that conversation we probably said less than 10 words to each other. Because I just told her, I said, ‘I don’t even know what to say.’”
What was there to say, to someone who had just lost their sister and her father in five days?
“And we just kind of stayed on the phone with each other really not talking,” McLoughlin said. “There’s nothing you can say at that point.”
McLoughlin said she has a bond that is difficult to pronounce.
“Not being blood, she’s my family,” McLoughlin said. “I would do anything for her.”
McLoughlin hadn’t known Maria was going to be cremated. She made up her mind rather quickly that she wanted to get over to Clonmel.
“Obviously, I did it for Tara … (But) besides doing it for her, I wanted to do it for Peter,” McLoughlin said. “He always had a twinkle in his eye. He’d say something to ya, just to bust beans with somebody and he was such an amazing man, or, as they say in Ireland — he was a sound guy.”
McLoughlin learned how much Peter Mulroy meant to his community when visiting Ireland for the first time, with Tara and Tara’s husband, Fran O’Brien.
McLoughlin ordered three Guinnesses for the trio at a pub on Parnell Street and mentioned Peter to the bartender.
“Oh, Peter Mulroy, oh, Jesus, those are on the house. Those are on the house, those are on us – don’t you worry about that, those are on us. You tell Peter we said hi.”
McLoughlin had it in her head, following Maria’s service. She was booking a flight to Ireland.
“I just said, ‘you know what? I don’t care about the consequences, I have to get work covered or what not, but I’ve got to get on that flight and help (Tara) out,’” McLoughlin said.
After her initial ride from Shannon Airport didn’t show, McLoughlin met a taxi driver who agreed to drive her to Clonmel.
“We get to Clonmel, we’re driving through trying to find the hotel,” McLoughlin said.
‘Anything look familiar?’ her driver asked her.
McLoughlin knew she needed to find Phil Carolls, on Parnell Street, the bar she ordered the Guinnesses from a few years back. She knew the hotel would be across the street.
The cathedral holding Peter’s services was mere blocks away.
Race against time
Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.
The sound of old, creaking pews intensified as the residents of Clonmel turned around.
The room’s sorrowful air swirled with confusion as everyone lay eyes on a stranger making her way through the church.
McLoughlin had made it, six minutes before Peter’s funeral service began.
McLoughlin saw Tara’s older sister, Colleen stand up and look back on the left side of the church.
McLoughlin made a bee-line to the family.
“I just tapped Tara on the back and I said, ‘Tara, here’s Maria,’” McLoughlin said.
Tara carried her sister’s urn to the priest, who placed Maria’s ashes next to their father’s casket.
“Tara is one of the most loving people in the world, but she’s not a hugger,” McLoughlin said. “And she just hugged me like I’ve never been hugged before.”
Following the funeral, everyone congregated at the Coachman Lounge before moving to Annie Kehoe’s Bar.
One of the locals picked McLoughlin out of the crowd.
“Hold on, wait a second,” he said with jubilation. “You’re the Yank! You’re the Yank who brought Maria. Oh, yer a legend. We saw you getting communion at Maria’s funeral. How are you here now?”
“Well, it was a quick trip.”
“Aw, you’re a legend.”
But McLoughlin didn’t want to hear any of that. She didn’t want such credit.
“I did it because Tara would’ve done it for me.”
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