I READ somewhere that whenever we are children we choose a song that speaks to us and through our lives we always remember that song because it has meaning for us.

This week my good friend, brother, mate, mucker and true Irish republican, Damien Gibney, passed away. On hearing the news I was lost for words but somehow I remembered the lyrics of his favourite song, which went like this: “Two little boys had two little toys, each had a wooden horse..."

The song relates that one of the lads' toy horses broke and as he wept his friend told him: "Climb up here, Jack, and don't be crying, there’s room on my horse for two." 

Through all the time that I knew Damien he always had someone with him on his horse; there was always room in his life for others. 

Damien and I met way back in the late-70s in Twinbrook when Twinbrook was still new and without a sense of community. Damien knew this and felt this and had the dream and the vision to bring a sense of agency and belonging to life there.

We worked together with others in what was the Twinbrook Tenants' Association and it wasn’t long before Damien changed the name to the Twinbrook Tenants' and Community Association – with the emphasis being on the word community.

There were others involved, great people, but for this memory I’ll focus on Damien.

For many years some folk said that Damien and I were joined at the hip as there was hardly ever a day that we were apart. Damien was larger than life and he had the courage and the audacity to bring to fruition the ideas that the community offered. I can tell you that the list was endless. 

Our work was voluntary, yet somehow we always scraped the money from somewhere to get by, and that’s what we did.

In the mid-80s he met the love of his life, the one who he described as the sparkle in his eye – May – and I can honestly say that May did indeed make Damien shine. May also had that community spirit and their door was always open for anyone and everyone. May to this day remains like a sister to me, a kindred spirit with a big, big heart. 

It wasn’t too long I’m glad to say before the sparkle in his other eye appeared: his beautiful daughter Sinead, the love of his life and if ever I saw a man dote over his daughter, it was Damien.

Damien and I went our separate ways in life for a number of years but recently we reconnected and were able to pick up on were we left off with ease. This is what good friends can do. The absent years are no longer absent for they themselves hold stories to be exchanged. 

We were able to pick up right away on the humour we shared and it was still the case that he always had a kind word about others and was always there for others. 

In some sweet, comforting way, I know that he hasn’t gone as he was one of those precious stars that shine not only at night, but during the day.

Damien continues to sparkle.