A cloud still hangs over the Border village of Garrison after the death of Michael Keown, a much-loved husband, father, and grandfather who died on May 29 after a short illness.

The strict Covid-19 restrictions robbed Mr. Keown’s family and the local community from the rituals of mourning and four weeks on they are all struggling to find closure.

“The sense of loss was very much compounded by the fact we couldn’t get to visit dad in hospital and the Covid restrictions always meant that many family members couldn’t travel or attend to pay their last respects,” his son Gabriel told The Impartial Reporter.

It was particularly upsetting and a very trying time for the father-of-three’s youngest daughter Joanne who was expecting her second baby and was unable to see him since March or attend his funeral.

The normal funeral service, directed by local undertaker Peter Carty, was restricted to graveside prayers. There was no shaking of hands, nor were there any comforting hugs.

“This was somewhat surreal and so we feel that closure won’t happen until dad’s memorial Mass takes place and the entire family can come together sometime in the future,” explained his son.

The family have sought much solace from leafing through the hundreds of cards and letters they have received and reading the thousands of messages posted on social media.

“Dad was a good man; he was a great man. He was a worker and loved to work. But most of all he was a friend to everyone in his own unique way,” said Gabriel, whose grief still feels raw.

“He was an exceptional worker in every sense of the word; he was a brilliant tradesman and craftsman in his own quiet way. He loved working and making or repairing things all of his life, but more so the latter years when he had retired and had more time to spare.”

Michael Keown was born in the townland of Glen West, just outside Garrison, to Michael and Susan Keown (nee Coyle) in 1947, and was one of three children. Having lived in what was better known as ‘the Cottage’ for much of his childhood and educated at Glen Primary School, the family then moved to Carran West, when his father bought farmland from the late Tommy Duffy back in the late 1950s. It was here that Mr. Keown later set up home and was to spend much of his life too.

Leaving Glen school, he then went to the Tech in Enniskillen and studied construction and Technical drawing, before taking up employment with Tracey Brothers in 1964. His first job was working on the construction of St. Mary’s High School Brollagh, under the watchful eye of foreman PJ O’Brien, who was to become his life-long friend and work colleague.

Mr. Keown was to spend the next 48 years working with Tracey Brothers as a Project Manager until 2012 when he retired. Some of his notable construction projects included St. Michael’s Church, Enniskillen, Necarne Estate, Lisnagelvin Primary School, Londonderry/Derry, Jonesborough Primary School, Armagh, and the one which he felt most proud of was the Waterways Ireland, Headquarters in Enniskillen, a building which went on to win a number of sustainable construction awards, for its design and build.

“Dad loved working and did so every day up until a few months before his death. When he retired, mum always wondered what he would do to occupy himself but he had his plans in place and bought what was formally the Old Post Office in Garrison and better known in local circles as ‘Blairs’.

“This B2 Listed property wasn’t without its restoration headaches and challenges but dad just loved working on it – and worked on it every day contently. He loved bringing it back to life and reinstating its presence in the village,” explained Gabriel.

“Owning the Riverside Bar for over 25 years, I know what maintenance of a large property is like; it’s never ending; but no matter how big or small the job that needed doing, dad was there to sort it out. It was the same with Michelle and Joanne in Manchester; he loved going over to do the odd jobs around the house for them every year and to visit his three grandchildren which he adored,” he said.

Mr. Keown really enjoyed his retirement and enjoyed visiting his grandchildren. He loved reading and much of his inspiration and ideas came from his love of reading and research.

He was a man of routine, but still enjoyed making time to chat people; there never passed a day when two or three people would drop by when he was working at Blairs and stopped to chat.

“He made great time for people and loved listening to their stories. He always stressed the importance to us as children of making time to chat people and never turn anyone away, no matter how busy you were. Dad was always welcoming of people and if they needed help, day or night, he was there to lend a helping hand,” he said.

On behalf of his family, Gabriel wishes to acknowledge “the kindness, support and generosity of our neighbours and friends” which he says “has just been overwhelming and we are forever indebted to them.”

“The respect shown to dad by the neighbours, friends, work colleagues and the wider Garrison community was heart-warming for all to see on the morning of his funeral when the road sides were lined with people from Carran West to Garrison Village.

“A most fitting and respectful tribute,” he said.