Friday 24 May 2019

Alf Dwyer was 'town's go to man' for years

Corkman Alf Dwyer made big contribution to life in town he loved and made his home

The late Alf Dwyer
The late Alf Dwyer
An estimated crowd of 15,000 packed Market Square for the rally following the Omagh bombing in 1998

'The town's go to man', that was the term, or an image, that best described Alf Dwyer's almost 60 year tenure in Dundalk and it is a legacy that deservedly will endure for many years.

Any community project, any worthy fund raising campaign, any event that needed to capture the public attention, then Alf was the man to provide the leadership, zest and enterprise.

It all started soon after he arrived in Dundalk and culminated most notably with the campaign to raise funds for vital equipment for the Louth County Hospital, and the establishment of the Alzheimers' Day Centre.

In listing the organisation in Dundalk to which he had an affinity it would be simpler just to outline the bodies in which he had no involvement.

On his arrival in Dundalk in 1960 he found a town slowly starting to emerge from the stagnation that existed since the foundation of the state and improving incomes motivated townspeople to look for an outlet to celebrate local achievements and promote local endevaour in the commercial, sporting and artistic fields.

The progressive Church Street Traders, under the inspiring leadership of Enda McGuill had suggested staging a festival in town, and to get their idea off the ground they enlisted the help of young Corkman, newly arrived in town, Alf Dwyer.

He brought with him the knowledge of festivals in which he was involved in Cork, and eventually under the guise of Dundalk Chamber of Commerce, Dundalk's first festival was born.

It was named the 'Grain and Grape' Festival, first staged in 1966, and was an immediate hit, with street events, exhibitions, fireworks, and a host of events over the week.

Later named the 'Maytime Festival' it endured for four decades, and Alf, having been involved from the start, did his stint as President in 1970, and helped steer the festival towards its central theme, of international drama, which became the platform on which the success of the Festival was built.

Alf later extended his involvement in secular and social affairs in the town for he was co-founder of the Dundalk Film Society, an adjudicator with Muintir na Tire, and produced a pantomime in the old Adelphi Cinema in 1968 in which he played the dame in 'Babes in the Woods'.

Although his direct sporting involvement was confined to golf, Alf's endeavours for Dundalk FC in the era of Jim McLaughlin increased advertising revenue at the ground from £700 to £7,000, and at the behest of Fyffes and his great friend, Paddy McNamee he established the Backhouse Theatre in town that attracted well-known national personalities.

At the invitation of another great friend, Frank Toal, Alf joined Dundalk Chamber of Commerce in 1989, and in the year in which he served as President, 1991 he recognised the need to improve Dundalk's image and reputation that had been sullied by the Northern Troubles, inviting British Ambassador, David Blaitherwick to town to meet townspeople.

Alf's contribution to the community to which he gave so much is best illustrated in the commitment that he gave over three years to 'Target 250', a fund raising campaign that he co-chaired with Dr. Tom O'Callaghan to raise £250,000 for badly needed equipment in the Louth County Hospital.

The fund exceeded all expectations, raisings £347,000, and was the biggest and most successful fund raiser ever promoted in the town with a committee of 24 and extended into all sectors of society within the town.

No sooner had his work with 'Target 250' ended than Alf was involved in another very worthy fund-raising campaign to raise the capital needed to build the Alzheimers Day Centre in the old hospital grounds. He provided the expertise and the commitment as chairman to successfully complete the project which to-day still plays a vital role in the community.

That desire to counter the negative publicity that Dundalk was getting as a result of the Northern Troubles and the Omagh bombing in 1998 in particular led Alf to take a leading role in a small ad hoc committee that within the space of a few days organised a rally that saw 15,000 people from the town and locality assemble at the Market Square to register their abhorrence at the violence in the North, with pictures from the rally screened by SKY throughout the world.

This rally and his work for the hospital and the Birches Day Centre should be remembered as Alf Dwyer's greatest legacy to the people of his beloved, adopted town, and while there were many other examples of his generosity and unstinting commitment to community life, none gave the man himself greater satisfaction.

Dundalk was fortunate that the Corkman who arrived in 1960 for a short stay never left for the footprint that he left will never be eradicated.


His love of drama, music and culture born from his days in the Loft in Cork

Alf Dwyer's love of drama, music and culture was fostered in his native Cork by the renowned Fr. Christy O'Flynn, a titan of his time, and one of the most remarkable men of his generation.

That affinity was born when Alf was introduced by a casual acquaintance to "The Loft", a two roomed citadel of Cork's cultural activities located over a sweet factory.

Then just 19, and in his first employment in the Post Office, Alf was captivated by the infectious enthusiasm that Fr.O'Flynn brought to his love of Irish music and song and it was no surprise that Sean O'Riada was a regular visitor to "The Loft".

Sunday mornings in "The Loft" where particularly special for Alf, as local and national figures in the artistic milieu called regularly, and exposed to Fr. O'Flynn's other great love, the works of Shakespeare, Alf was a willing participant in many of the plays he produced such as "Merchant of Venice", 'King Lear' and 'Macbeth'.

Alf also got involved with other groups in Cork, including the Christmas panto.

When he left the Cork scene that he loved so well for his secondment in Dundalk he felt that his absence would only be temporary, but as his stay was extended, Alf was enticed to find an outlet for his talents, and in Tom Tynan, the legendary producer of the renowned Genesian Players in Dundalk he found a soul mate.

Alf's stage debut in Dundalk was however with the Dundalk Dramatic Club, playing Curly in "The Country Boy", produced by Kitty McDermott, but soon his allegiance with Tom Tynan and the Genesians produced a rich dividend for Dundalk audiences and indeed audiences throughout the country.

The plays of John B. Keane were coming into vogue, and in the role befitting his talents that of, Danger Molloy in "Many Young Many of Twenty", Alf stole the show winning acclaim and awards at drama festivals held throughout the country.

Alf's finest performance, even though he did not admit it himself, was playing "the Bird" in another of Keane's best known plays, "The Field", which drew capacity audiences over extended runs in town.

That stage experience garnered in his early life, and his love of the Irish language and music became a major asset in his adopted town, for throughout his life Alf rarely turned away a request from a charitable or voluntary body to act as compere at a guest, tea, concert, fund raising event.

In this he was the consummate professional, never going before an audience unprepared, or immaculately attired, and the hallmark of this expertise was the ease by which he himself appeared, the eloquence and humour that he conveyed to his audience.

The highlight of the concerts he compered was the St.Patrick's Day concert in the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1978 with a capacity audience of 6,000.

He will therefore be remembered with great affection, and gratitude by the many organisations to which he gave his services so freely, for it was a true sense of community, and a desire to foster the greater good that was his motivation.

Staunch Republican background in Cork

From a staunch Republican background, Alf Dwyer was born in Cork City in August, 1931, the second eldest of six children, four boys, two girls to Harry and Mary Dwyer.

His father was from Cork City, his mother from Beal na mBlath near Bandon. Republicans by conviction, both had taken part in the Civil War on the side of Michael Collins.

After his primary education at Strawberry Hill N.S., Alf attended the renowned North Monastery Secondary School, run by the Christian Brothers, and was forever grateful to the Brothers for nurturing his love of the Irish language that remained with him throughout his life and for the quality of the education he received for he said in recent years “it is a pity that a minority of Brothers brought so much infamy to a great Order whose Brothers dedicated their lives to the education of Irish youth over two centuries”.

On leaving school in 1948 he joined the Post Office, and continued to study at home to complete his Leaving Certificate the following year.

Later he joined the Revenue Commissioners working in the Cork Office until in April, 1960, he was seconded to Dundalk to help with the introduction of the new Pay As You Go (PAYE) system which was to take effect for all salaried workers from October of that year.

His secondment was to last for six months, but extended to the remainder of his life, with Dundalk becoming, as he said himself on frequent occasions, “the town that gave me everything, a great family, wonderful friends, a good business, and a life about which I have no regrets”.

Alf remained working in the Tax Office in Dundalk, first from Douglas Place where as he often recalled “I had a room with a view” looking down Roden Place into Jocelyn Street.

Later Alf moved with all the tax staff to the newly built offices in Earl Street and he remained one of the top officials with the Revenue Commissioners in town until in 1981 he took the bold step to establish his own tax consultancy business, first in the Backhouse Centre and later in Stapleton Place.

Over the following 20 years he became an invaluable source of counsel not just on taxation, but on business opportunities, to a wide variety of clients, and even, as Very Rev. Paul Montague, Administrator, of Holy Redeemer parish, recalled during his very eloquent eulogy at his Requiem Mass, Alf advised priests in the Archdiocese, and the Archdiocese itself, on matters relating to taxation and pensions.

Alf sold his business to his auditors, Connolly, Fee & McGailey in 1999, retired the following year and continued to play a very active part in his local parish, where he was a reader and collector, and in a wide number of community activities in the town.

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Elma (nee Kelly), a native of Cork, sons, Harry (Monaghan), John (Dublin), Michael (Dublin), Valeria (Termonfeckin), Geraldine (Dublin), sister, Teresa Leetch, (Cork), 13 grandchildren, sons-in-law, Gary Keating and Conor Griffin, daughters-in-law, Geraldine, Natasha and Karen and by his extended family and friends.

He died in the loving care and dedication of the staff at the Louth County Hospital and after reposing at his home in Mount Avenue his remains were taken to Church of the Holy Redeemer for Requiem Mass celebrated by Fr. Montague. Burial took place in St. Fursey’s cemetery in Haggardstown where Fr. Montague wasassisted by Very Rev. Padraig Keenan, P.P., Haggardstown.

The Argus