Roland Burke

… life on the edge of a nanosecond


This is the Eulogy given by Peter Burke at his brother Roland’s funeral on July 14, 2006.

1997 07 Amsterdam“You know the way when someone dies you have to work hard to avoid speaking ill of them. Sometimes you have to strain every sinew to find right words and your nose grows inches as you struggle to find nice things to say. With Roland there is none of that. No task is easier then sharing good memories of him. The only hard thing is to know where to begin.

As I look around me today, I see an incredibly diverse group of people. The one thing that links us all here in this church is the fact that we love Roland, and I use the present tense deliberately. Roland was a modest man, one who did not often blow his own trumpet, so I think much of what I have to say may come as news to you. Those of you who know him as a prize winning bridge player may be unaware of his illustrious past in the world of pirate radio, and vice-versa. Those who knew him as a loyal working colleague at UPS, where he had just been given his ten-year long-service award, may not know about his alternative career as a translator of technical German. Some of you may not know about his musical background. In fact if I had to pick the thread that ran through his life it was music. From the early days with the Dublin Boy Singers, he threw himself into it. Many times when he was young we saw him perform in the Olympia Theatre, with the result that for Ralph and myself, Joseph and the amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat was the only musical we could have sung through from beginning to end. Roland would see a musical instrument as a challenge to be grasped with both hands. In his early days it was the accordion, and I am pleased that in today’s proceedings we will have the opportunity, [with Liam O’Connor] to recapture some of that. Throughout his life he played the piano, and, as a man with near perfect pitch, he could hear a tune once and play it back fully orchestrated within five minutes. He also spent many years as organist in this very church, sitting where Mary is now [though I bet Mary doesn’t lapse during rehearsals into snatches of Black Sabbath]. As Father Con mentioned yesterday he was not famous for arriving in time so it was not unknown for the choir to have to start a capella.

I think it was his love of music that first got him involved in the world of pirate radio. He was in at the beginning of many are of the early stations, including Radio Dublin, Big D, Nova and Kiss FM. I am thrilled to see that he kept up his links with many of the people in those stations throughout the subsequent years. Because of his career as a DJ, Ralph and I had the opportunity to bask in his reflected glory. Many’s the time at parties we would let slip – as it were – that he was our brother, to be greeted with an admiring ‘O my God, you’re Roland Burke’s brother!’.

What he did in radio he did well. He did it at the last minute, but he did it well. Many of today’s most prominent broadcasters would tell you that they owe their career to him. Indeed I am pleased to say that he acted as an inspiration to both his nephews, who have taken up careers in the media and in music.

I don’t need to tell you that Roland was a bright lad. He had a logical mind which verged on the merciless. In fact between yourself and myself I can tell you that Roland was a martyr to the old logic. And if you don’t know him well, you may wonder what I mean by that, so I will tell you a short story. On one of the occasions where Roland as a small boy got lost in town, he was picked up by a friendly passing woman. ‘What is your name, little boy?’ she said. “Roland”, he said. “And where do you come from?” she said. “Loughlinstown” he said. “Loughlinstown?” she said. “Yes, I was born in Loughlinstown hospital.” For logic read literalism. And he hasn’t changed a bit since.

I want to say a word about knitting. This is one of the accomplishments that I am sure most of you did not know Roland had. When he was a small boy in Mount Annville school he used to design and make his own Aran sweaters. In fact he was what Hugo Hamilton would describe as an Irish-German ice cream cone: Aran sweater on top, lederhosen below. His Aran sweater was actually highly presentable, and when his teacher heard he had made it himself she insisted on parading him around all classes to show the girls his handiwork. The look of embarrassment on his face was only palpable.

But if I spoke only about his accomplishments I would be doing him an injustice. To his family and his friends the most important thing about Roland was that he was a warm, caring, loyal and thoughtful individual. His friends will know that he was a glass half full man. He was one of life’s conciliators. I have never seen him angry and we have never argued.

Despite this he somehow always seemed to get his own way. He genuinely cared about other people and wanted to see them doing well. It has been touching and gratifying to learn in these last few days how many people will genuinely miss Roland.

Before that I conclude I would like, on behalf of the family, to thank Fr Con and the other celebrants. Fr Con had to come up from Waterford for this occasion. I would like to thank you all for being here. This has been at a terrible week for the family, but it would have been 10 times worse without the help and support of our neighbours and of Roland’s many friends. There are too many to name, but I would like to single out in particular Conor and Freda, who have been amazing. I am much hope that those of you who can will join us later today to celebrate Roland’s memory.

Finally I must end with Roland himself. Goodbye, Little Brother, may you rest in peace.”