“Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”
WH Auden wrote those words about how the world should stop for his grief. William (Billy) Mulligan certainly did not want this to be the case for his funeral. He left instructions for a happy funeral – one ending with one of his favourite pieces of music – Sinatra singing “My Way,” and through the tears, his family and friends managed to celebrate his life, and smile!
Billy Mulligan certainly did it his way, as all who knew him know. He was a witty, friendly, serene man, but one who quietly followed his own path regardless of what society tried to constrict him to.
His father and mother, Thomas and Sarah Ann were poor, though did their best to bring food to the table for their three children, Billy, born August 16th 1918, May and Lucy. Thomas, like many young men of his generation, at the behest of his “betters”, went to fight in the killing fields of France and Belgium in 1914. He lost a brother, Alexander, and this and his many terrible experiences during the conflict made him want a better world for his children. When the second war came along, Thomas made sure Billy did not join up, warning him if he did he would, “take the hatchet to ye!” Thomas’ life was blighted by his war experiences and he died young. This had a profound influence on Billy. For the war effort, Billy transferred from Fergusons linen factory to an aircraft factory, helping construct the wings of the Sunderland flying boats for Shorts in one of their satellite factories near Lisburn.
After the war he went back to work in Fergusons, becoming a valued and skilled member of staff. He worked there until he was 72, saving for a retirement he hoped would mean he could travel.
In 1938 he married Margaret and they had two children, Lorna and Georgina and, lived in a small terraced house on Smiths Hill, Lenaderg, later moving to the new prefabricated houses in Primrose Gardens. Where-ever he lived, he wanted to make it beautiful and modern for his wife and daughters. His gardens were always immaculately kept. His interest in plants and indeed the countryside stayed with him until his dying day. Margaret was, like many good wives, a driving force in his life and he said recently that the best decision she pushed him to make was to buy a car when he was forty years old. They loved to travel in the car – driving all over Ireland and indeed the British Isles. Billy said that if it hadn’t have been for Margaret pushing him to learn to drive, he would not have seen some of the beautiful places he did.
Billy had many favourite places he loved to visit, and until only a few days before he died, he was still visiting Castlewellan Park, Tullymore Park, the County Down Coast, Carlingford and what became an almost everyday visit – the grounds of Gosford Castle.
In his later life, he travelled to the continent and to places in and around the Mediterranean, but for Billy there was none so beautiful as Northern Ireland and nothing so important as family and friends. He loved “the craic” and enjoyed recounting many of the stories of his past both in front of the fireplace and every Saturday night over a couple of pints in Shepherds.
He will be sadly and sorely missed by his daughters, Lorna and Georgie and her husband and his friend Bobby, his grandchildren, Amanda and her husband Terry, Karen and her husband Alan, Ian and his wife Ashley, Neil and his wife Sonya and Margaret and her husband Mike and his great grand children, Jonathon and Christy; William and Zara; Scott and Michael, Sam, Saskia and Michael for they were, to paraphrase WH Auden,
‘His North and South, his East and West,
His working Week and his Sunday rest,
His noon, his midnight, his talk and his song.’