'Kerry prince' James was held in high esteem by everyone that knew him
The late James O'Donnell
ON September 9, Michael Gallagher writing in The Western People reported "The Death of a Kerry Prince", such was their admiration and respect in Bangor, Co. Mayo for their adopted son, the late James O'Donnell.
A native of Annascaul, James lived most of his life in the village of Cloontakilla outside Bangor Erris where his humble, serene and gentle demeanour left a lasting impression on all who came into contact with him.
The eldest son of John and Agnes (nee Moran) and brother of Eileen, Mary, Ann, Bríd, Noel and Gerard and two other young brothers, Enda and John Christopher who predeceased him, James was born and spent his childhood years in the hauntingly beautiful valley of Droumavalla, Annascaul, a place associated with heroes and martyrs going back to the time of Cuchulainn and the penal laws and of course also home to the famous Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean.
James had an idyllic childhood helping out on the family farm with his other siblings.
He attended Brackluin National School in Annascaul where he developed a great love of learning and books, here too his love and of Gaelic football was nurtured.
In his youth James played with Annascaul and was an ardent Kerry supporter throughout his entire life in good and bad times.
Later in life he was to pass on those footballing skills to the "young James", his son who played with the Mayo Minors. This was a source of great pride to him.
He was immensely proud of the great Paddy Kennedy R.I.P, the renowned Kerry Captain of the 1920s who was a close relative of his.
He carried his love of Kerry to the grave and came home to visit the family several times a year.
He made sure to visit every house and it sometimes took him a few days to get back home, having called to everyone.
Like many other young people of his time, James was to travel far away to a very different landscape, Cricklewood in London.
During his time there he worked in construction where he made lifelong friends and met the love of his life, Bridie McHale from Bangor Erris, Co. Mayo who was later to become his wife.
This union resulted in four beautiful children, the O'Donnell children were encouraged to live life to the full, enjoy every minute and every hour of every day, that was James's motto to the end.
But Ireland was always calling and the young couple returned and settled in Bridie's home place, the storied village of Cloontakilla where they named their home "An Riocht" meaning The Kingdom signifying the love James had for his native Kerry.
He adored the Green and Gold and despite being very ill, travelled to Croke Park to support Kerry in the All Ireland semi final and that was to be his last trip to Croke Park.
In recent months when it became clear that God was calling he and his family faced this new challenge with courage and love. They laughed and cried, talked and remembered. They spoke about the past, the present and the future and finally let go.
His final days were filled with thanksgiving for life and for the knowledge that his birthplace, so respected and loved by him, was once again revered when on July 29 Bishop Ray Brown and his fellow priests concelebrated Mass at Sagart Mass Rock in Annascaul.
He loved the rock and in his last hours managed to recite the poem "An Sagart" written by Annascaul Poet, the late Ted O'Donnell.
His family recorded the recitation, leaving a beautiful heirloom for future generations of the O'Donnells to cherish.
His popularity in the Erris Peninsula was truly reflected by the huge number of people who came from far and wide to pay their last respects to a man who was held in such wonderful esteem by everybody who knew him.
A number of local community groups formed a guard of honour at his funeral, among them were the local ladies football team whom James trained in recent years.
In death, as in life, James was special; he will never be forgotten by all of us who loved him.
He will be sadly missed by his wife Bridie, sons, James and Kieran, daughters, Fiona and Davinia, Mother-in-law, Daughter-in-law, Son-in-law, Grandchildren, sisters, brothers and large extended family and many friends.
Go nDeana Dia trocaire ar a anam dilís.