Gerard Cowan was a wandering minstrel from the Emerald Isle whose love of music and restless nature brought him on a convoluted but fascinating journey over the course of his life. Gerard died in the United States in his adopted home of Pawcatuck, Connecticut on the 2nd February 2009 after battling for over 10 years against a brain tumour which was diagnosed not long after the birth of his three children. Pawcatuck is a small town of just over 5,000 people along the Pawcatuck River in the North Eastern corner of Connecticut on the Atlantic Coast. It is an old established town which is part of New London County and the Mechanic Street Historic District is a historic riverfront district on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a centre of engineering and textile manufacturing in New England from the 1800s and before that had a thriving seafaring and boat building tradition along the Mystic River. It is also the home of the Freedom Schooner “Amistad” made famous in the 1997 movie of the same name by Steven Spielberg about the 1839 mutiny aboard a slave ship which was travelling towards the Northeast Coast of America
Gerard Cowan or “Bouncer” as he was nicknamed due to his exuberant character and physique was well liked amongst his friends in Dublin, in Scouting and in Traditional Music circles. Many of us met him last at Conor Maguire’s funeral at the end of November 2008 in Dublin and while he was very obviously not himself he was still delighted to catch up with the old gang. I told him that Conor would have really appreciated he was there and he just said “Conor would have done the same for me.” There was a lot of decency about Gerard and we felt for him in his fight against his illness. It is odd and unsettling that the two West Finglas friends who grew up two doors apart on Kildonan Avenue have gone from us in such a short time. Many people at that other sad occasion in Dublin had not seen Gerard for many years and were both shocked at the physical toll his illness had taken but delighted to meet him again after many years. The psychological toll on Gerard and those around him must have been immense as he had been told on a number of occasions that he had only months to live.
His obituary in his local paper “The Day” hints at the colour and variety which he packed into the 49 year long journey of his life;
“Pawcatuck – Gerard Patrick Cowan, 49, of Pawcatuck, beloved husband of Michelle Morris and father of Ciara, Ben, and Jamie Cowan, passed away, Monday, Feb. 2, 2009, at home after a long battle with a brain tumour. Born in Dublin, Ireland, he was the son of Margaret (Dignam) Cowan of Dublin, Ireland, and the late James Cowan. Gerard was a traditional Irish musician, and was also a veterinarian technician for many years in New Jersey, Michigan, and Virginia. At various points in his life he trained as a baker, worked as a tiler, was a stay-at-home dad with his triplets, and even a cowboy. He loved to fish, appreciated the outdoors and all wildlife, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and enjoyed listening to and playing traditional Irish music.
Besides his wife, children, and mother he leaves his sister and brother, Deirdre Duffy and her husband, Eric, and Robert Cowan and his wife, Ann, all of Swords, Ireland; a niece, Alana Witter; and his nephew, James Duffy.
A memorial service celebrating Gerard’s life will be held Thursday, Feb. 5, at 11 a.m. at the Old Mystic United Methodist Church, 44 Main St., Old Mystic. There are no calling hours. The Mystic Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.
The family has asked any donations be made to Hospice of South-eastern Connecticut, 227 Dunham St., Norwich, CT 06360. The family invites you to visit www.mysticfuneralhome.com for the online guest book.”
Gerard had a wide circle of friends amongst his neighbours and childhood friends, his involvement in the Scout Movement and in traditional Irish music circles. After leaving school he had a number of jobs before training as a baker and obtaining his City and Guilds with the major Dublin firm of Johnston, Mooney and O’Brien and afterwards did a number of jobs in catering and in music. Traditional Irish Music was his great love and he was an accomplished balladeer and guitarist who occupied regular pitches at music sessions at the famous Brazen Head (the world’s oldest licensed premises and mentioned in Leon Uris’s “Trinity”) and in O’Donoghue’s in Merrion Row, Dublin. The latter establishment is the holy grail of traditional music famous as the launch pad of the Irish Folk Group “The Dubliner’s.”
Farewell Ronnie Drew
Gerard was a talented musician and singer and with his natural sociability he was a fixture at social gatherings amongst his wide circle of friends. It was his music which first brought him to the “Next Parish to Ireland”, America where he married, set up home and had three children who are not yet teenagers.
He loved the outdoors and weekends in the countryside and was an enthusiastic member of 57th Dublin Venture Scouts. As well as his own unit Gerard often joined in events with 1st Dublin and 5th Port Scout Groups. We also remember him giving freely of his time and effort on two other projects.
Firstly, in the late 70’s and early 80’s he was involved with 64th Dublin Scout Group based in the basement of Eamonn Ceannt Tower in the Ballymun Public Housing complex in North Dublin. This was a unique experiment in Scouting Outreach in a deprived area and Gerard was always on hand when help or assistance was needed as he identified with the aim of bringing the benefits of the Scout Movement to youngsters who needed it most.
Secondly and fittingly for one with such a musical bent he was very much involved in the great event at Woodstock! This was not the small event in upstate New York but the International Scout Jamboree held at Woodstock in County Kilkenny in 1978. Gerard was down most weekends in the year beforehand where we were based in Cullen’s Farmhouse constructing the infrastructure needed for an event with 7,000 visitors over 10 days in August 1978. In true “Bouncer” fashion there were many happy musical evenings in Cullen’s farmhouse and in the local hostelries in the village of Inistioge
As his Obituary from “The Day” shows he fitted a great deal into his 49 years and touched many people. He was not the most organised or, at times, the most rational of people but there was no doubting his love of life, his exuberance which earned him his nickname “Bouncer” or his happiness in the company of others particularly indulging his love of music and the outdoors.
At times like this there is no point in looking for fairness or reason in what has happened, death is always a glutton and it never seems more avaricious than when it takes those who are too young and relish life. Nobody could doubt Gerard’s love of people, his capacity for friendship and his zest for life. Our deepest sympathies go to his wife Michelle, his children Ciara, Ben, and Jamie Cowan and his family in Ireland.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis.
Gerard P. Cowan
Born Dublin, Ireland, June 16, 1959
Died Pawcatuck, Connecticut, United States of America, February 2, 2009