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Pat O'Neill, Knockbridge, Co. Louth

Extracts, with the Society's permission, from an article in the 1991 Journal of The Creggan Local History Society

Pat O'Neill, Tomas O Fiaich, Normandy 1978 A chance introduction and a casual question at a Gaelic League function in Newry in the late fifties was the start of a genuine friendship that never ceased until God called him home on May 8th, in Toulouse, in France, far away from his friends and his beloved South Armagh - and I four thousand miles away in Chicago. He was in the company of the late Dean Quinn of Dungannon and Canon O Sabhaois and he asked me was I an O'Neill from Annaghgad and, from that night, hardly a week went by without some correspondence between us.......

......Hardly a year passed that we didn't spend a few days together in Rannafast, where he was loved by all up there. They really adored him because of his command of the language, which was on a par with the best of the native-speakers. When in their company, he loved to reminisce about his student-days in Colaiste Bhride and how excited he became, talking about the classes, the games, the singing and the ceilis. His interest in Armagh football knew no bounds......

......I would describe him as the Irish Solomon, with his fantastic intellect and brain and his great regard for the ordinary folk. I will just tell of one incident. On a certain Sunday, he was to have fulfilled two important engagements, one in Dublin in the afternoon and one in Belfast that same night. Both would be very important and would involve Government ministers, or their representatives. He would negotiate with them in Dublin, to end the meeting slightly early, as he had to be present at the opening of the handball-alley in Cregganduff. Such consideration but, as he said himself: "I have more respect for those out there and sure Hughie Largey would nail me with the crutch if I didn't turn up". He never lived to fulfil any of those engagements.

He loved company and he hated to be alone. Wasn't he lucky to have gathered such a group of loyal friends about him......

......I have one big regret. He knew I was planning a visit to America. He came to me twice and asked me to go with him. He was to go on a tour to raise funds, I think, for Maynooth. It was to be a long-distance tour but short in duration. I told him that I wished to spend a longer time there and I declined. I'm sorry now because, later, when I met and talked with Father Delaney and others in G.A.A. circles in the Bronx, in New York, I realised I had made a mistake. He was lonely on that trip and there was all unease about him. I was in Chicago when the news of his sudden death came. I don't know how I felt. I really cried and for three days I was stunned. I listened to radio and television but no news came. I realised then how our emigrants felt long ago, when news of the death of a loved one came.......

......I knew him as a caring man, generous to the needy to the point of being careless with money and a man with a deep devotion to his priestly duties. In all our travels together, he always dressed as a priest. He was a family-man and his visits to the family home (Dr. Paddy's and Deirdre's) were always a joy to him. He loved his nephews and nieces and was constantly interested in their welfare. He was proud of his native South Armagh and no matter where he was, or in whose company he was in, he used every opportunity to extol the virtues of his people.......His presence among us was an inspiration. He pulled us up by the boot-laces. We walked tall, heads erect, with a spring in our steps. He gave us a pride in our past. He defended us in the present. And he gave us confidence for the future. This was the Cardinal's legacy to us and each and every one of us has shared in that legacy. His death does not alter that fact. He lives among us still, believe me.

He died as he would have wished - in harness and causing no trouble to anyone....... I shall miss him in Ara Coeli. There is a vast emptiness there now. Whoever his successor is, I wish him well and. as our Archbishop and Cardinal, I shall be his obedient servant. I am sorry for him though. He has such a hard act to follow - impossible really.

Suaimhneas siorrai duit, a chara na gcarad. (Eternal rest to you, O friend of all friends).

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