To St. John Huxtable, death was a cause for celebration of one’s life, and it was that extraordinary passion that made him a noted figure in the Dublin undertaking trade for years.
It was Huxtable, operating, as indeed do a disproportionate number of the trade, from Dublin’s Liberties, who devised the concept of the personalised burial service. Not for him the staid murmurings of the Latin mass, but instead a ceremony that reflected the life of the deceased. It was he who, for example, gave the option of burying a deceased coal merchant in one of his own coal bags. The sight of the bag being carried up the aisle, corpse inside, on the shoulder of a burly colleague, would bring many a tear to a family member, as well as the occasional scream when the odd lifeless arm would slip out of the bag.
Huxtable was incredibly sensitive to the needs of bereaved families, and his willingness to accommodate their needs got him an international reputation. In the 1980s he was nearly killed securing the corpse of a much loved Dutch windmill operator to one of the sails of his windmill, so that he could view the sparse Dutch landscape he had loved so much. Admittedly, the sight of a dead Dutchman occasionally appearing to hover over the tops of trees did cause an unfortunate spike in traffic accidents, but the family were deeply grateful.
It wasn’t all success for Huxtable. In 1972, an attempt to fire a former uniformed member of Eoin O’Duffy’s blueshirts from a cannon into the sea, as per his dying wishes, went disastrously wrong. A combination of changing high winds and over-enthusiastic use of gun powder resulted in a burning fascist cadaver being fired through the bedroom window of the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, an incident which soured all concerned.
In later years, following his retirement, Huxtable focussed on improving the trade. Always concerned about the wellbeing of his employees, he strived to create a self propelled remote control casket which would save his employees from potential back injury. The initial testing resulted in a fiasco when the casket malfunctioned and was last seen barrelling down the North Circular Road at high speed, before being machine gunned by an off duty Special Branch officer at Hanlon’s Corner. As one passerby commented, on viewing the bullet riddled coffin: “Ah Jaysus! Hasn’t he suffered enough already?” A sentiment that would very much sum up Huxtable’s attitude towards those in his care.