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LISDOONVARNA and surrounding communities came out to bid their respects to the late John O’Neill also known as Jack at his funeral mass on Friday morning.

Seventy nine year old John was found dead at his home in Lisdoonvarna on Friday morning last (January 7th) in “unexplained circumstances”. He had been noted as an “intrinsic” member of the tourism community in North Clare having operated a B&B O’Neill’s Town House with his late wife Christine since 1973.

Members of the local community streamed along the streets of Lisdoonvarna on Friday morning to pay their respects following John’s funeral at Corpus Christi Church where his coffin was draped by a St Breckans jersey.

A father to two sons, Graham and Sean and five grand-children Conor, Síofra, Cara, Odhran and Donagh, John was born in Lisdoonvarna in a house built by the Madigan cousins who were stone masons. Named the Grand Central House in memory of his father’s time spent in New York City. His late mother Susan worked in London during the second World War as a nurse, later becoming a constant source of medical information in Lisdoon, “her sense of duty and confidence in her ability to help people rubbed off on her only son,” Graham said.

John was the only boy in the O’Neill family who was “so fond of his sisters”, Geraldine, Philomena and Marie. Both Geraldine and Philomena died of cancer “way before their time,” Graham noted. He said that his father being the only boy “marked him out as someone with a great heart”. His sister Marie is “devastated with the loss of her big brother whom she was so proud of”.

Old friends recalled that John “could solve dilemmas in childhood games with humour, he was always quick to see the funny side”. Friendships with his schoolmates at St Flannan’s College remained until his death, the kindness he showed to students younger than him “marked him apart” at the Ennis secondary school.

Graham commented that his father was “a mine of information” and was the go-to source if someone was looking for a part for their Mercedes car, the best hotel to stay in abroad or who to link in with when emigrating to London. “As one friend put it, the town of Lisdoon has lost its own talking encyclopaedia”. He added, “My father had many adventures, although he was deeply rooted in North Clare, he travelled the world over spending time in many far-flung places”. His knowledge of town squares and statues in parts of Venezuela recently stunned Graham during a recent conversation.

Touching on the strong loving relationship between his parents, Graham detailed that they formed a partnership over fifty years. “When she became ill two years ago, he took on role of her carer until her sad passing in July, it was a task he carried out with dedication and love”. Given the manner of his father’s death, Graham said he was “grateful” his mother Chris “is not here today to carry the shock and sadness we are all experiencing”.

On the sporting field, John lined out with the Clare minor footballers and was part of the panel that reached a provincial final. He remained a life-long supporter of St Breckans. “He took pride in wearing cyclists lycra and boasting about cycling to Corkscrew Hill without a puff,” he quipped. On the golfing course, he was a member of many societies and at the age of 79 “was still golfing and still showing up lads half his age in terms of fitness and skills”.

“He was also our father and a great one,” Graham said as he remembered trying to keep up with his father at Bishop’s Quarter and their first family trip to Disneyland in 1981. Journeys to Lahinch Golf Club to practice golf shots on Sunday were “punctuated by a history lesson on who lived in every house along the way. In this simple way, he passed on his pride in the community and a sense of place to me, it also reminds of John’s most important life skill, that of keeping and maintaining personal connections”.

As a grand-father, John was very active and curious to discover the various personalities and interests of his beloved five grand-children.

Graham paid tribute to An Garda Síochána “for the professionalism in how they have dealt with the shocking events of the past week”. He acknowledged the warmth of their neighbours and friends “for wrapping their hands around the O’Neill family”.

“We remember our John O’Neill as a legend of a man, who didn’t approach life with cynicism, fear or judgement but with an open mind,” Graham concluded.

Speaking at Friday’s mass, Fr Richard Flanagan referenced the “many different nuances” in languages pinpointing the word goodbye as a case in point. “The French use au revoir for temporary departures and adieu for final departures. Life is a succession of au revoirs and adieus, the number of the latter sadly grow as we get older”. He added, “We will never forget you John”. Fr Flanagan noted that John’s life was “wonderfully described” by Graham. He said in preparing for the mass he was conscious that John’s life would not be defined “by that one senseless act”.

Parish priest of Lisdoonvarna, Fr Robert McNamara added, “It’s not slán, it’s slán tamall, see you later”. He remarked that in his twenty six years as a priest, he had never been surrounded by such a loving parish as Lisdoonvarna, Doolin and Kilshanny.

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