Tuesday 22 October 2019

'I'm worried there won't be enough room in the church' - hundreds of people plan to attend funeral of Irishman who died alone in London

Joseph Tuohy pictured with Brian Boylan
Joseph Tuohy pictured with Brian Boylan

Sarah Slater

HUNDREDS of people are planning to attend the funeral of an Irishman who died alone in London without any known family.

Joseph Tuohy (87), originally from Toomevara in north Tipperary passed away during the summer with his remains being cremated.

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Since an appeal was made for members of the public, especially anyone with a connection to Tipperary, to attend his funeral mass so his “last goodbye would not fall on deaf ears,” several have come forward wanting to help with funeral arrangements.

The search for relatives and for mourners to attend his funeral began when Margaret de Brun, from Sandycove, Co Dublin, a volunteer at St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre, which raises money for the Friends of the Forgotten Irish Emigrants, received an letter detailing the hope that this man could be brought home.

Brian Boylan, who runs St Gabriel’s Homeless Centre in London, was made Mr Tuohy’s next of kin when the elderly man passed away. He decided to write to Mrs de Brun to help bring him home.

The final funeral mass arrangements have now been organised for 10am on September 27 in St Joseph’s Church in Glasthule, Co Dublin. Mr Tuohy’s ashes will be buried in Toomevara, his birth place.

Fr Denis Kennedy will officiate with Quinn Funeral Home providing undertaker duties.  Ronan Murray is the Resident Organ player at St Joseph’s Glasthule and soprano Maria Fitzgerald are to perform at the ceremony.

Hundreds of people have made contact with Mrs de Brun, Mr Boylan and Fr Kennedy wanting to pay their respects at his Mass.

Mrs de Brun has since discovered, through her own detective work that Mr Tuohy was born on May 16, 1936 in Toomevara and christened there two weeks later.

His sponsor was a lady called Nan Tuohy and his mother Mary Tuohy was subsequently placed in a Magdalene Laundry in Limerick under the name of Mary Flannery. It was common place for authorities to change the name of girls once they entered their care.

Mrs de Brun explained how she came to be involved in the stranger’s funeral.

“Now I’m worried there won’t be enough room in the church such are the hundreds of people who said they would like to attend the ceremony. I know very little about this man but I think as a forgotten Irish emigrant he shouldn’t go to his final resting place without people around him. His passing shouldn’t fall on deaf ears.”

“The letter was sent to me by Brian Boylan who runs the St Gabriel’s Homeless Hostel, in London and some of our fundraising here, helps with their annual costs. There is a commemorative plaque on Carlisle Pier, (East Pier in Dún Laoghaire) where thousands of these emigrants left from to find work in England organised and paid for by us. It is so important that we never forget them.”

There is also a commemorative plaque dedicated to them at the London Irish Centre in Camden, London which we fundraised for and had shipped over to the UK.

Mrs de Brun added: “I’ve received hundreds of phone-calls and emails from people all over the country and in the UK. Several saying they think they are relatives of Mr Tuohys. We’ve had numerous requests to hold a Mass and burial in various places but we have decided his burial should be private as he was but would love anyone who wants to attend the Funeral Mass in Glasthule to do so as it will be a very dignified ceremony. Without the help of Quinn’s funeral directors and Fr Kennedy I would have been lost.”

Mr Boylan, speaking ahead of next week’s Mass, explained that the Tipperary man was, “four and a half or five-years-old he was taken from his unmarried mother and ended up in two different orphanages over an 11-year-period. It was the 1930s and a very different Ireland.

“His mother became pregnant while working in New York. She was alone and abandoned but managed to return home to Ireland. He told me they had a special bond he never forgot. She was a loving mother who worked very hard on various farms cooking.

“She protected him as best she could and he felt secure he told me. He felt very loved by her and knew nothing of the bad feelings felt towards his mother being unmarried. She shielded him from all of that.”

“But Ireland of that time was not a place to be an unmarried mother and the various authorities were just waiting for a slip-up by her so he could be put in to care.

“One day while at a farmer’s house, Joe was playing close to an open fire. He slipped and burnt his leg. As a result his mother was brought to court and Joe was taken from her following a court case. She was placed in a Magdalene Laundry. They never saw each other again.”

But Mr Tuohy eventually left for London where he stayed for the rest of his life, married for a short-time but had no children.

“His marriage was annulled and he continued to work as a tailor in London and he was so good at what he did. If only he had a financial backer he would have gone to the top of his field. However, he fell on hard times, became homeless and unfortunately due to health complications he lost a leg.”

Mr Boylan visited the man several times a week so he would not be alone.

“I know that Joe would take solace from the fact that his life story, which was full of pain, may help others on their own and encourage them to seek help. To know that so many people want to attend his funeral and to help with his final goodbye is a great solace.”

“Thanks to Mrs Brown’s hard work as a volunteer at St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre this man will finally return home and be shown the respect he deserves.”

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