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A tribute to the late Tom McGrath

DESCRIBED as a “visionary in the area of mental health”, many tributes have been paid to the late Tom McGrath, Coole Lodge, Francis Street, Ennis, who died recently.

The late Tom McGrath
The late Tom McGrath

A retired psychiatric nurse at the former Our Lady’s Hospital, he will be remembered for his contribution to the welfare of patients, as well as being a valued member of several voluntary organisations in Ennis.

A proud Feakle man, he was educated and worked locally, before being appointed a psychiatric nurse in Our Lady’s Hospital in the late 1940s. Totally dedicated to the caring of patients, he was also a very popular member of the hospital staff.

When he arrived in Ennis, it was the start of a long and happy association with the town, during which he and his wife, Theresa associated themselves with various voluntary organistions, their work being greatly appreciated.

Tom also graduated with a degree in social science from UCG and he and his wife undertook courses for diplomas in health education and counselling. Since his retirement, Tom gave his full support to community care and visited many people in their homes.

He also gave his support to Respond Housing Association, Ireland’s largest not-for-profit housing organisation, founded and headed by Fr Pat Cogan, OFM, Waterford and formerly of Ennis Friary.

Probus and Ennis Toastmasters were other organisations that Tom gave a lot of his spare time to. He was a founder member of Ennis Toastmasters, who celebrated their 40th year last November and to mark the occasion, Tom received a presentation in appreciation of his service to the club. It was said that Tom embodied the ethos of Toastmasters.
In conjunction with Toastmasters, Tom also got involved in a youth leadership course.

The Mental Health Association also benefitted from his involvement, as did Living Scenes, a programme of intergenerational learning, whereby older people met students at school level to exchange ideas on life in general.
Tom supported his wife in the promotion of Ennis Tidy Towns, which won national titles for the town. In addition, they took Francis Street under their wing, keeping it neat and tidy, looking after flowers beds, which they provided themselves. It was all part of the Pride of Place campaign.

A keen GAA man, Tom and his wife rarely missed a game involving the Clare senior hurling team. Rugby was another sport to interest the McGrath family, especially with their grandson, David Flynn, lining out with the Young Munsters U-18 team.

A keen golfer, Tom looked forward to playing with the senior members at Ennis Golf Club on Thursday mornings.

Fr Pat Cogan, in his tribute to Tom, said he first met Tom and his wife when he was a young priest attached to Ennis Friary. Tom became the founder/chairman of The Friends of Respond Ennis in 1989. He gathered a group of dedicated volunteers around him and they went into every corner of Ennis and beyond to raise the necessary finance for the development. Two housing schemes were developed and opened, Coopers Place and Waterview in 1991, providing 24 dwellings. These schemes became the springboard for some more housing developments by Respond, comprising a further 94 dwellings in Ennis in Orchard Grove, Stone Court and Rineanna View. Without Tom’s dedication and generosity, there might never have been any of these 118 dwellings provided for people and families in need.

“Tom and Theresa McGrath have both dedicated themselves to the people of Ennis throughout their lives in the many initiatives they have developed on behalf of the town, not least of which is their great work in the Tidy Towns ventures. Tom will be sorely missed, not only by the Friends of Respond Ennis, but by all the other Clare organisations in which he served so diligently,” Fr Cogan.

The Ennis Toastmasters’ tribute came from Michael Leyden, who said he met Tom in 1976 at a Toastmasters meeting. They were on a recruitment drive.

“During the meeting, Tom addressed the assembled small gathering and his message was that Toastmasters is not an elitist club, it is for everybody. Apparently, during the recruitment campaign, Tom was constantly confronted by the public, remarking, that there was a perception of elitism within the club. Tom, in his humility, wanted a level playing field for all and subsequently succeeded in getting that message out there with the result, due to the variety and calibre of members joining, that Ennis became a world-class club.

“Tom was humble, jovial, a great team player, a great mentor, and a firm believer in ‘Mol an oige agus tiochaidh si’. His delight was the ‘topic session’ and he relished the banter of encounters. Toastmasters was all about, and still is, confidence, overcoming nervousness, shyness and gaining the ability to compose and present a topic in front of an audience. Tom had great advice to give to newcomers. I remember once he reminded me, ‘I had two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion’, meaning for him to become a better listener,” said Michael.

Maria Molloy, chairperson, on behalf Ennis Mental Health Association, outlined how Tom worked throughout Clare promoting the aims and objectives of the organisation.

“Tom had a particular interest in the mental health of young people and was particularly enthusiastic when the national body launched the National Speaking Project for students attending post-primary schools. He worked tirelessly in partnership with the national body to encourage schools in Clare to participate in the project, providing the opportunity to create a greater understanding of the importance of promoting positive mental health and dispel myths around mental illness. Owing to Tom never giving up on this project and his meticulous organisation skills, a large number of schools participated, spanning over 30 years.

“There were many successes recorded throughout the various stages of the projects but when the team from the Scariff Vocational school won the national final in the late 1970s, when 250 schools participated, Tom was a proud man, being a native of East Clare.

“Tom was a founder member of the Ennis Branch of the Mental Health Association and he served as secretary up to the time of his death. Two weeks before he passed away, he organised the annual church gate collection in co-operation with fellow colleagues.

“He carried out the duties of secretary with due diligence and the minute book was his pride and joy. He had a unique ability to compose a letter in whatever the circumstances dictated in a diplomatic style. He was a great negotiator and, when required, he used his skills with great effect.

“At this time, it is pertinent to note and worthy of mention in the appreciation that Tom gave most of his lifetime working in the area of mental health. In his professional life he worked as a community psychiatric nurse with the local statutory services based in Clare. He will be remembered as being a great campaigner/advocate for the clients and their carers residing in his patch. He demonstrated great empathy for persons experiencing mental difficulties and provided the listening ear, helping them to work towards solutions to their plight despite the many impediments they would encounter on their journey recovery. On reflection, he was a visionary given the current thinking on the direction of mental health service going forward, focus on a recovery/community-based model of care.”

Tom’s role in the Probus Club of Ennis was spoken of by Joe Dilleen. He described Tom as a proud member of the club, which he served twice as secretary and a most popular president in 2009. He is remembered especially for his reliability, at short notice, to entertain his fellow members as an ad-lib speaker. Tom would step into the breach when, for whatever reason, there was a forced departure from the planned programme of activities and reinvigorate the meeting with anecdotes laced with Tom’s unique wit, wry sense of humour and his way with words. Indeed, his vast vocabulary was often tested among his fellow Probus crossword aficionados, who often called on Tom to solve unanswered clues on the margins of the Tuesday meetings.

His death after a short illness, took place at Cahercalla Hospital, Ennis on January 31. Reposing was at his home at Francis Street and removal was to Ennis Cathedral, where the funeral mass was con-celebrated by 14 priests the following day. The chief celebrant of the mass was Fr Pat Cogan, OFM, Waterford, a family friend, assisted by Fr Tom Hogan PP. More tributes were paid to Tom during mass to which the Rice College choir, Ennis, contributed.

Probus, Mental Health Health Association, Ennis Golf Club, Toastmasters, Ennis Tidy Towns, former work colleagues and friends were among the guard of honour as the coffin was brought from the Cathedral before burial at Drumcliffe Cemetery.

Tom is survived his wife, Theresa; family members, Brendan, Ciarán, Dermot, Aidan, Deirdre and Fergal; brother, Jimmy; sisters-in-law, Maura and Nora; brother-in-law, Pakie; daughters-in-law, extended family and many friends.

T. M.

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