New York’s Irish community is shell-shocked over the sudden death of one of our own, 12-year-old Rory Staunton, and as April Drew writes, the young angel was beautifully memorialized by his friends and family in Queens last week.
“The death of a baby is like a stone cast into the stillness of a quiet pool; the concentric ripples of despair sweep out in all directions, affecting many, many people.” -- De Frain, 1991
To watch tough grown men crying, sobbing uncontrollably is a hard thing to witness. But to see little boys and girls no more than 13 wipe tears from their eyes with their sleeves and to watch mothers weep as if one of their own had been taken from this earth was even more heartbreaking.
These were the sights I witnessed (and actions I participated in) last Thursday morning at an Irish church in Queens.
Most of you have heard the news by now. The life of a handsome, bright, brave red-head boy was taken from this world way too soon.
His name was Rory Staunton. He was only 12. Although still a boy, he was more mature than many grown men I know. He had a wise old head on his shoulders.
I’d only ever met Rory a few times during his short life. The last of these meets took place at his uncle and aunt’s home in Long Island last summer. Rory’s uncle, Niall O’Dowd, is the publisher of this newspaper and at the kind invite of Debbie McGoldrick, Niall’s wife and editor of the Irish Voice, we spent July 4 celebrations with them.
As many of you know by now Niall’s sister, Orlaith, is Rory’s mom. His dad is the well-known Ciaran Staunton, owner of O’Neill’s bar and restaurant in Manhattan and the newly established Molly Bloom’s bar in Queens. Ciaran is also the president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, a position he takes extremely seriously, and the community is forever indebted to him for his tireless work on their behalf.
I remember the July 4 party like it was yesterday. I was only a few weeks pregnant with my now six-week-old daughter, Sadie. I was suffering from morning sickness and still not able to tell the world my news.
I devoured well-done burgers, drank sodas and chatted with those around me. One of those people was Rory.
The last time I met Rory (at a dinner dance with his family) he was a small boy, young and innocent. That day in Long Island he astonished me. He was now tall, mature and handsome.
While Niall and Debbie’s wonderful daughter Alana and Rory’s sister Kathleen took our son Colum (seven months at the time) into the house to look after him and play mommy, Rory joined in on our adult conversations. Of what I remember he was well versed on many things, including football and politics.
He spoke to John, my husband, about his love for flying and his plans to become a pilot. He mentioned that he was given flying lessons by his parents for his 12th birthday. John was very impressed. I could see a successful charming man develop before my eyes.
So when Niall rang me the Sunday night Rory passed away from a toxic infection he received from a cut on his elbow (who would ever have thought) I was speechless. What can you say to news like that?
John and I spent the evening trying to wrap our heads around the sudden death of such a young beautiful person. When word trickled throughout the community that one of their own had lost their beloved son there was heartbreak.
As soon as news of a memorial service was planned to celebrate Rory’s young life people scheduled time off work, mothers booked sitters and Rory’s classmates and friends were given a pass from school to attend the service. We all wanted to be there to share that very last bit of this young man’s life because he touched us all in some way.
I traveled to Queens with my good friends Pete Coyle, Mary Brennan and Orla Kelleher. Together that day in St. Mary’s Church we wept for Rory and wept for his family.
We laughed together too as Ciaran bravely stood up and shared many fond memories he had of his son. At one point I looked around. There was a sea of people, most dressed in black, jammed into the pews, old, young and middle aged.
People lined the sides of the church, and because of the spill out onto the street a viewing screen was placed in the car park so no one could miss out on celebrating Rory’s beautiful life.
On a few occasions I would see boys with Rory’s stature standing in the church, and for a split second they reminded me of the younger Staunton. I kept thinking if I see Rory in these boys poor Orlaith and Ciaran must too. How heartbreaking this time must be for them.
While we were waiting for the Staunton family to arrive we watched a collage of pictures depicting Rory’s life from birth to death. Sniffles could be heard echoing throughout the century and a half old church.
But it wasn’t until 10 a.m. when the family walked through the doors that everyone felt their pain. They slowly and sadly marched up the church behind their son’s coffin. A sight I hope never to see (or experience) again in my life.