Friday, 16 December 2016

Violet Morrison (1925 - 2016)

Van’s mother Violet Morrison died this year on May 31 at the Richmond Private Nursing home in Holywood, Northern Ireland aged 94.  Her funeral service was held at St Donard's Parish Church in east Belfast, where Van performed three songs in tribute to his beloved mother.  St Donard’s Church was where Van’s parents were married in on Christmas Day 194 and was mentioned in two of Van’s songs On Hyndford Street and Beside You

Mrs Morrison was a talented singer in her own right.  Recordings of Mrs Morrison's songs were played during the service, which was for close friends and family only. The service was a simple one and there were few mourners from the music industry.  Indeed, apart from Van's grown-up daughter Shana, who lives in America, and his wife Michelle Rocca, who was there with their two young children, the majority of the people in the church were old friends with whom the singer had grown up. Mourners included various boyhood pals who played with Van in various fledgling groups before Van’s professional career began.  They were Gilbert Irvine, broadcaster George Jones, former guitarist Billy McAllen and Van's cousin Sammy Stitt, who was a drummer.

Van Morrison sang three of his own songs during the service, accompanying himself on guitar with his American backing singer Dana Masters, who lives in Northern Ireland.

The first song was By His Grace is from Hymns to the Silence and the lyrics refer to "living your religion deep inside when you try for the kingdom on high".  Granddaughter Shana, who six years ago called her up to sing at a concert in Belfast and introduced her as "my wee granny", recited the Poem of Life in honour of the woman she said was one of her best friends in the world. Her father then sang a second duet with Dana - On Hyndford Street, an evocative remembrance of Van's early life. Shana joined her father and Dana for the third musical tribute Joyous Sound, from his Period of Transition album that talks of the grace that "will follow us until we meet again".

Pastor Bill Dunn, who paid a moving tribute to Mrs Morrison during the service, is another friend from Van's past.  He quoted the words of a famous old Irish song, A Mother's Love's a Blessing, as he offered his condolences to Van and his children.  He said Mrs Morrison had an "engaging and outgoing personality" adding that he remembered her singing at a private birthday party for Van a few years ago when she also danced the twist.

Pastor Dunn said he'd gotten to know Mr and Mrs Morrison after he, George Jones and Van got caught up in the skiffle mania that swept the UK back in the mid-1950s.  "A few cheap guitars, a washboard, and a tea chest attached to a brush shaft by a piece of string was all that was needed for a skiffle group," he said.

After the service, which was conducted by Canon Ken Higgins from St Donard's, Van emerged holding the hand of his young daughter Aibhe and his son Fionn Ivan grasped the hand of mother Michelle Rocca.

Mrs Morrison was buried in Redburn cemetery in Holywood beside husband George’s grave, who died in 1988.

Funerals are often a time people think about their beliefs about God and eternity. I remember decades ago when as an angry atheist I attended a child's funeral.  As my mind wandered to the big questions of life, death, eternity I can remember getting angry that any sentimentality had crept into my thinking.  

Now, as a Christian, I see things completely differently.  Death holds no fear for me (except the pain of dying, I suppose).  My own mother is in a care facility in an advanced state of dementia.  She no longer knows me but I know I'll see her again in heaven with her mind completely restored.  It's the able bodied angry atheists I feel sorry for, not my mother who asked Jesus to be her Saviour a long time ago. 

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