THE late John O’Neill had been a great father and grandfather, his son Graham told mourners at his funeral in Lisdoonvarna this morning.
Graham said that John’s mother had been a nurse in London during the Second World War and that “her sense of duty to others and confidence in her own ability to help was something that must have rubbed off on her only son”.
He said that even as a boy John had a certain charisma and likeability.
“His proud sister Marie told me recently of a time that he stood up to a teacher that was heavy-handed in punishment of a classmate. He received a punishment himself, but it marked him out as someone with a good heart and a brave disposition. John’s school friends remember his enduring kind demeanour, someone who could resolve dilemmas in childhood games and troubles with humour. He was always quick to see the funny side.”
Friends he made as a youngster lasted for the rest of his life. “He made firm friends at secondary school in St Flannan’s College where his time with his fellow students, particularly his juniors set him apart, these were friendships that lasted until his death.”
Graham said that one summer in the 1960s, John had returned to Lisdoonvarna to help with the harvest, and had met the woman who would become his wife after going to the Savoy for a pint, and hearing about the presence of English visitors. “A handsome charmer, John followed his nose and ended up encountering Christine Scard.”
He said their partnership lasted for decades, and he had spent the last few years of Christine’s life as her carer, “a task he carried out with dedication and love”, Graham said.
John had travelled very extensively, Graham added, and had a knowledge of very far flung parts of the globe.
“Although deeply rooted in North Clare John had travelled the world over, spending time in many far flung places. Recently, a family friend was chatting to myself and John about his time in South America. Amazingly John knew the town square mentioned, even down to the detail of the statue there. How did he know this? He had been in Venezuela buying aircraft parts from the ministry of defence and had stayed in the same town. Needless to say, me and my good friend were stunned.”
He said that John had been part of a Clare side that contested a Munster minor football final, while he supported his local club all his life, and he also had a great interest in cycling and golf.
“John took pride in wearing cyclist’s lycra and boasting about cycling up the Corkscrew Hill without a puff. He also was an avid golfer, over the years he was a member of many golf societies and attended many golfing trips at home and abroad.
“His friends recall how the 19th hole was a favourite when you were in the company of John as he would regale his comrades with wonderful and varied stories from his travels all over Ireland and far beyond. At 79 he was still golfing and showing up lads half his age in terms of fitness and skill.”
He said that John had been a great father, and that his memories included being told about the birds and wildlife at Bishop’s Quarter beach and travelling to Disneyland in 1981.
Graham said that John had brought him to England to get his first set of golf clubs, and after that they would play together each week.
“Every Sunday he would bring me for a few shots to Lahinch. The journey there would be punctuated by a history lesson of who lived in every house along the way, who they were connected to and the funny stories about his interactions with them. In this way he passed on his pride in community and sense of place to me. It also reminds us of John’s most important life skill of making and keeping connections, whether in his personal life or professional life.”
He recalled acting as a navigator with John as a driver when he was young. “He never questioned my skills or judgement on which turn to take and his approach to parenting would continue on as myself and Sean made our own twists and turns through life. John was always in the background with complete confidence in his two sons. Always there for advice and pulling on his vast connections when we needed them.”
Graham also said he had been very active as a grandfather. “He enjoyed the visits to Santa, cuddles on the playroom couch and reading stories, things he may not have had time to do the first time round with his own boys, but he sure grabbed the opportunity with both hands as a grandfather.”
Having spent a long time caring for his late wife prior to his death, John had been coming back to himself, he said.
“John had just enjoyed a lovely Christmas, dividing his time between Sean’s house and ours and meeting with friends for a pint and a chat. His zest for life had returned after a tough two years of nursing Chris and he was looking forward to the New Year with the old twinkle back in his eye.”
Graham thanked the Gardai “for the professional and respectful way they have dealt with the shocking events of the last week” while he thanked the community for its support also.
Concluding, he added, “We remember our John O’Neill as a legend of a man who approached life with not cynicism, fear or judgement but with a big heart and an open mind. I’ll finish with one last quote from his youngest grandchild Donagh who simply said ‘I miss you, John’. Rest in peace.”