By Francine Cunningham
She was simply the prettiest and wittiest creature I had ever seen. With her blonde ponytail, tutu skirt and Doc Martens. It was Dublin in the late Eighties, and it was the first time that I met Barbara. If I was quiet and bookish, she was vivacious and out-going. Where I would give a wry smile, she would bring the house down with raucous laughter. If I was shy, she was a party animal. Or at least seemed to be back then.
Maybe if we had met decades later, we would have found little in common. But at that moment in time our paths crossed. We became friends for life.
Shortly after meeting we would share a house together with our late, creative and kooky friend Louise. Our soundtrack showed the diversity of our interests – from Leonard Cohen to Dolly Parton, and from Irish bands The Stunning and The Dixons to The Golden Horde. A constant stream of ‘musos’ would pass through our doors. As our landlady, who sat at the top of the stairs on patrol, would remark: “Some had no hair and some had hair down to their backsides.”
Our lives evolved in different directions. Barbara settled down happily with one of those long-haired musos in Dublin and revealed another side of herself. She became a wife and doting mother, perfecting her recipes for healthy, homecooked meals, growing her own vegetables and loving cosy evenings at home with her boys.
Meanwhile, I followed a career in journalism, public affairs and law to Paris, New York and Brussels. Yet, as the decades flew past, whenever I came back to Dublin, I would catch up with Barbara for “dins” or a cup of tay and “a natter”. While she may have looked like the quintessential dizzy blonde, Barbara could be thoughtful and insightful. She had a kind of common sense that is quite uncommon.
Then there was that razor-sharp Dublin humour I missed so much when I was abroad. It only took one well-turned phrase or pithy put-down and I was projected right back home.
Barbara was always late to our get togethers. Very late. I was so used to it that I often gave her an appointment time half an hour earlier than I intended to be there. Even then I would have to wait. She joked that she would be late for her own funeral. But she wasn’t. She was much too early. Decades early.
When life finally brought me back to Ireland earlier this year, we got little time to spend together. Barbara was going through months of chemo (in the middle of lockdown), with her usual positivity, but went down quickly and died just before Christmas.
Covid restrictions robbed her of the big send-off she so richly deserved. Instead a small group of old friends and family gathered together in a windswept Dublin cemetery to remember “Babs”. Friends and neighbours spoke beautifully and made us laugh and cry. Members of our old circle, some of whom I had not seen for decades, were present. They were older, with salt ‘n’ pepper hair and a few laughter lines, but recognisably themselves. Only more so.
Her funeral service ended fittingly with “She Talks to Rainbows” from The Ramones. We promised that a year from now we’ll have a party to celebrate Barbara. The only person I know who could wear glitter with grace and a feather boa with aplomb. A flamingo among pigeons.