Jude Collins

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Ben Clingain RIP

This post is untypically non-political. I heard today that a former classmate of mine, Ben Clingain, died in Cleveland, Ohio  yesterday.  I did a book of interviews ('Tales Out of School: St Columb's College, Derry in the 1950s') last year and Ben was one of those I interviewed.  Like himself, the interview turned out modest, funny and lovable.  Below is a short excerpt from it. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam - May he rest in peace.

Ben Clingan
Religion never got rammed down our throats in the College. We had religion class once a week but I wasn’t too conscious of that.  When you were involved with an outside church as we were in Creggan, and your mother drags you to Mass every Sunday, and your granny tries to drag you to Mass every bloody day, you get to the point where it wasn’t a big factor for me. But boarders had Mass every day.

During the retreats  you had to walk around pretending to be holy. I was in the choir and the choir occupied the balcony during the retreats. So for some reason on this occasion everybody was quiet. And you know when boys are together, it’s quiet and then suddenly, somebody sniggers or sneezes or, God help us, somebody farts. Well, somebody farted in the choir that day during a sermon.  We all gagged laughing. As soon as we started, we put our heads down behind the balcony so nobody could see us. The whole choir had their heads down behind the balcony giggling like kids – which we were. And then I heard this voice going ‘Um – Clingain?’ Somebody at the back had come in, it might have been Keaveny, and I was the only one he recognized.  I just looked at him and went ‘Yes Father?’  He didn’t say any more. I straightened up and so did all the others. So we all got serious again.  But at those retreats you’d walk around. We were all good Catholic boys. All I could see was the boarders walking around all serious – nobody cracked a smile. You couldn’t talk. But we talked.  The sermons,  what I remember of them, were the worst ever.  Like the Jesuits, telling you about the perils of masturbation, the dangers of gonorrhea. We were all good Catholic boys.

Father Flannery told me about the facts of life - we got called in one by one to his room. He was very serious about it. So he’s sitting there and he’s got a poker in his hand, and he’s telling us about the facts of life.  and I’m looking at the poker and …I had no clue. I was so innocent. But afterwards I was walking down Bishop Street with Patton and McCann,  because McCann knew everything about it and Patton certainly had done it. They’re trying to explain to me that the woman’s sperm and the man’s sperm – and I’m still confused. McCann eventually says ‘Look, you eejit – they both pee in  a bucket and the woman drinks it! Are you happy now?’  I went ‘Oh,  that’s so gross!’ I couldn’t think about that for weeks afterwards.

I was kidding around one day and Hammy McMahon pulled me out.. Remember the desks that you had – the top came up and it had an inkwell?  I was fiddling,  drawing a footballer in his class. After the class was finished he said ‘What do you want to be in life?’  I said ‘I dunno – I might be a priest’. McMahon said ‘Clingain – you’ll never amount to anything. You’ll certainly never be a priest, as long as priests are in this country!’ I said ‘Thank you’. I was terrified, because he was having a real go at me.


  1. Condolences...sorry for your loss...RIP

  2. Ben may have not turned out to be a priest, but he had a heart of gold and a smile to go along with it! I'm sure everyone who knew him just enjoyed his company! I know I did!

  3. Memories of people fade so quickly so to have a record of their life is such a bonus...
    You can tell he was a 'character' and good company just from that short excerpt...
    One of the things I miss most about those no longer with us is the old sayings and reminiscenses (sp?)...I write them down now when I think of them just to remind myself...maybe I'll put them in a compilation some day...

  4. I met Ben in 1987, in a pub funnily enough, in sleepy Middle England where he lived at the time.
    I take as I find, and found him welcoming, charming, funny, mischievous, and crap at golf..............and yet somehow once a week for 15 years he still beat me and the others we played with..........a true gentleman, a close friend for many years, and a great loss for those who have had the pleasure of his company since he departed these shores. Heartfely condolences to his family, and in particular to Tom and Em who were both very very dear to him. I for one feel a little less whole knowing he aint around anymore. JW

  5. Just returned from Ben's funeral and it was a fitting sendoff to a wonderful man. His youngest son, Tom, held it together and filled everyone in on parts of our friends life we had not known. He has a beautiful family that I wish we could have met under better circumstances. RIP friend.

  6. Ben said to me, Saint Gabriel and Jesus were playing golf one day.
    Saint Gabriel laid up shy of the lake in front of the 18th green with a five iron.
    Jesus asked Gabriel what you think. a two iron. Gabriel answered I would lie up.
    Jesus took out his three wood and proceeded to hit the ball into the lake. As they were walking towards there balls a golfer came over from the other fairway and said to Gabriel, who dose he think he is Jesus Christ? Gabriel replied no, he is Jesus Chist and he thinks he’s Tiger Woods.

    The two hardest tasks I have accomplished in my life were putting my fathers uniform together for his funeral late at night after playing ace-deuce in the evenings after work, and telling my father how much I would miss him, those last months of his life.

    The third was giving Ben my favorite golf ball I putted with for thirty years or more thank you Neil.

    My Love to Ben, Emily, Thomas, Neil, Elizabeth, Siobhan, Tara, Sarah and Satender, Jo Ann, Jenny, Ott and Rebecca and all


  7. 'By your friends I know you'...it seems Ben had good friends...

    How eloquently those few words describe the banality and the unbearable aspects of death...
    When does it get better...?