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Monday 26 February 2018

A quiet farewell to a gentle carpenter who 'did not deserve to die' in fear

The heartbroken family of burglary victim John O’Donoghue, along with fellow mourners, make their way to Doon Parish Church in Limerick
The heartbroken family of burglary victim John O’Donoghue, along with fellow mourners, make their way to Doon Parish Church in Limerick
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

It's a picturesque landscape around the village of Doon, which nestles in County Limerick, a couple of miles from the Tipperary border. The land is green and lush and speckled with cattle grazing in the autumn sun, and in spots the winding roads are lined with tangled hedgerows bowed with blushing blackberries.

Also dotted along the roads are signs proclaiming a succession of spots to be Community Alert Areas and Text Alert Areas. For the isolation of rural life brings its own problems - such as burglaries and break-ins - and one such incident brought tragedy to the tranquil and pretty village of Doon last week.

It was a sad sort of quietness which settled over the village yesterday. Birdsong and the lowing of cows vied with the tolling of the parish church bell as family, friends and neighbours gathered to bid a final farewell to local man John O'Donoghue.

The 62-year old bachelor collapsed and died at his home in Toomaline Upper last Thursday afternoon when he returned from the shops and disturbed two burglars ransacking his house. His sister Christina, a retired nurse, was with him and realised he was suffering a heart-attack and appealed to the robbers for assistance, but both men fled the scene. Two men were arrested shortly afterwards and subsequently charged at a special sitting of Limerick criminal court on Saturday with three counts of burglary and one charge of criminal damage.

Yesterday Mr O'Donoghue's siblings - his sisters Mary, Sheila and Christina and his brother Seamus - were the chief mourners at his funeral mass. Also among the mourners were Niall Collins, Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick and Sgt Ted Riordan from Bruff Garda Station, who led the investigation into the burglaries which took place the day of John O'Donoghue's death. The chief celebrant was parish priest, Fr Tony Ryan, who had administered the last rites to John.

His sudden death has shocked the small community where he had been born and raised and where he had spent his life working as a skilled carpenter - many of the homes and club-rooms in the area had benefited from his talents.

Fr Ryan reminded the congregation just how deep his roots were within the village. "This is the church where John O'Donoghue was baptised, where he received first holy communion, where he was confirmed. This is the church where his grandmother was sacristan for many years," he said. "Everybody is saddened and upset at this tragic, unexpected and sudden death - he did not deserve his life to end on Thursday afternoon under those awful circumstances as he collapsed in shock and died, despite the best efforts of paramedics, friends and neighbours. Even the tears fell from the skies as the heavens opened, with torrential rain falling for about 30 minutes while John was departing this world."

Fr Ryan described him as "a very quiet, gentle, inoffensive and unobtrusive person" and his funeral mass reflected his description - a low-key and dignified ceremony, surrounded by the familiar faces of friends and family. Fr. Johnny Sweeney, a friend and neighbour, sang hymns from the altar, as some of John's much-loved nieces and nephews did readings and brought up the gifts.

Objects symbolising his life were carried to the altar. He was proud of his garden, and loved reading, and so some books on his favourite topics such as history and gardening, and a hammer reflecting his skill as a carpenter were placed close to his coffin.

But the parish priest also spoke of the dark events surrounding John's sudden death - the nightmare scenario of a home invasion haunts vulnerable people living in so many isolated rural areas around the country, many of whom have seen the comforting presence of a local Garda disappear in recent years.

"It's a reminder to all here in Doon and indeed throughout rural Ireland that we must be alert to the needs of our neighbours," he said.

"There are many people living in fear who are on their own. We must reach out to them and keep in touch as best we can, for they feel so isolated and vulnerable," he said.

Fr Ryan told the mourners he believed that Mr O'Donoghue "did not die in vain".

"I feel there is a growing awareness of the need to watch out and look out for each other. Perhaps our politicians will see to increasing a Garda presence on the ground in rural Ireland again to reassure all who feel so alone," he said.

After the mass, the funeral cortege slowly made its way down the main street, past shops which closed their doors in respect as one of their own embarked on his last journey to the cemetery at one end of the village

At the other end of Doon stands a fine stone building which once housed the local Garda station. But it was sold two years ago and is now undergoing redevelopment into several apartments. Retired garda Gerry Connor was stationed there from 1967 until his retirement in 1999.

He said the village hoped that the building would be retained for community use, and there was a proposal put together to turn the former historic Royal Irish Constabulary barracks into a museum. "But we never heard a word back about it," he shrugged.

Now the closest station is in Bruff.

But Bruff isn't in the next village - it's almost 32 long kilometres down the lovely, isolated, winding roads which John O'Donoghue loved so well.

Irish Independent

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