Main pic: A view of the photography studio on the Berkeley Road, opposite the Mater Hospital. Photo Brian McDaid.
The trees block the view a bit now, but I know I’m in the right place.
The years have passed since I first looked out this window of the Mater Hospital. Looking up at the window from the nearby street below this week, I’m not sure if it’s still the location of the Intensive Care Unit as the hospital has undergone massive extensions from the days that we sat at his beside the bed of our uncle, Fr Mark Coyle.
A journey was made a few times a week at the start when things were very serious. Many the evening you headed up to Dublin hoping for the best and preparing yourself for the worst. Fr Mark never once got a chance to get up out of his bed and look out the windows of the ICU or High Dependency wards that he frequented in the Mater Hospital. When we, his family, were visiting, we were his eyes to tell him what was going on – how the seasons were moving from autumn to winter and from winter back to spring. He loved to hear what the weather was like back in Donegal. He might have seen the tops of the trees in the garden outside the Mater Hospital but for the most, it was only the sky he saw.
Across the road from the Mater hospital there always was a light in a photographer’s studio window on the Berkeley Road. I would describe what it was looking like and the clock in the window marking time. And on days when Fr Mark was trying to distract from how he was feeling, he would ask me if there was much happening in the studio outside his bedroom window today.
“Someday, I’m going to go in there and tell them that you were asking after them”, I would joke with him, trying to cheer him up.
I was also renovating a studio myself in Letterkenny at the time. It was an old house that his sister Bida and husband Miah once lived in, and where his father and mother, Pop and Bridget Coyle, my grandparents, lived there too. It was always something that he looked forward to was the work that was going on at home.
Fr Mark spent nearly a year in the Mater Hospital and, sadly, progress in his health wasn’t good enough for him to go to Dun Laoghaire Rehab Unit. However, he was very happy to know he was getting back home to Letterkenny General Hospital. And then to be able to look out the window of the hospital from his bed and see the spire of St Eunan’s Cathedral was just the tonic for this battling townie.
Progress was slow but great work was done in the rehab unit in St Conal’s. And a day that we hardly could believe we would see was that he would soon be on his way to his home away from home, Ards Friary in Creeslough. The day I collected him from Letterkenny General, he had planned to take a wee spin down to the foot of the town to see his old home that was turned into a studio. On the day he left the care of the hospital we saw the reality of how weak he really was. All he was able to focus on was to get down to Ards and said some day that he might be in better form he would visit the studio. I was as worried as he was that day we took him out of the hospital, so I was glad that he just wanted to go straight home. Both of us knew that day, even though he was back a few times in Letterkenny hospital, his journeys were done by ambulance and he never would be back at the foot of the town again. Fr Mark sadly passed away in 2010 in his beloved Ards Friary.
Over the years, the time I miss Fr Mark the most is when I’m on the road to Dublin. Different landmarks remind me of heading up to Dublin and the staff in the Mater turning a blind eye to the official visitors hours because of the journey I had to make and would let you in to see him when you arrived. Maybe two or three years after Fr Mark had passed on, I was in Dublin sitting in the traffic one day. It was very near to the Mater Hospital and just happened to see the light on in the studio on the Berkeley Road. I looked up to the other side of the road to see if I could figure out the window in the Mater Hospital where Fr Mark was at for nearly a year. Just as I was thinking about our many conversations about that studio outside his window back then, I saw someone in the studio. So, in the spur of the moment, I decided to call in and introduce myself as a fellow photographer. I don’t remember how I explained why I called into the studio straight off the street, but it worked and I struck up a conversation with the photographer, Maria, who took the business over from her late father after he died. Even though Fr Mark was gone a few years, I still told her that when he was living I told him I would call in and tell whoever was in the studio he was asking for them all. I might have called in twice after that on trips to Dublin, but kinda lost contact over the years.
Out of the blue this year, maybe seven or eight years on, I got a text from the same studio asking me how I was getting on. They were also telling me that they were now nearing retirement age and the person that owned their building would be selling in a few years. As they lived over the shop, they would be starting to take things a little easier and prepare to retire and look for somewhere new to live.
Call it serendipity, but just at that time I found that I could have been doing with one of Fr Mark’s wee chats. I was looking at a new chapter in photography for myself and the call came in at just the right time for someone that was in the same business to give me the encouragement to follow my future plans….