Dolly Duggan was a dear family friend in Millstreet, originally from Cork city. She was a great smoker and drank the occasional glass of wine, but she was a daily maskor, who always reassured people, like children fretting at the prospect of an exam, by saying, "I'll light a candle for you." She died in her fifties and since then, I go around lighting candles for her.

A Candle for Dolly Duggan

Improbabilities of course, we all
know that: that this graceful taper
I force into the the tallowed cast iron
beneath the Assumption in the Frari
could change the heavens, so that she
can pick up her cigarettes and lighter
to move on to a higher circle, as before,
she moved, talking, through the lanes of Cork.

Sir Thomas Browne said there aren’t impossibilities
enough in religion for an active faith.
So I’ll go on spending liras and francs
and pesetas across the smoky hush
of Catholic Europe until she says
‘That’s enough’, and then I’m free to toast
her in red wine outside in the sunlit squares.

from Outliving (Chatto & Windus 2003), © Bernard O’Donoghue 2003, used by permission of the author.

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