Tuesday 22 October 2019

Documentary looks at life of reclusive Peter

The late Peter O’Neill’s home in Glenmalure
The late Peter O’Neill’s home in Glenmalure
Peter's glasses on his writing desk

Esther Hayden

The story of a recluse who lived in Glenmalure for more than two decades will be brought to life this Sunday night in a Would You Believe programme.

The decomposed body of Peter O'Neill, a man in his 70s, was found on May 8, 2015 in his home by a local garda after a neighbour contacted gardaí saying Mr O'Neill hadn't been seen for some time.

The Secret of the Universe is the last in the current series of Would You Believe. Presented by Ashford man Mick Peelo, the programme delves into the life of Mr O'Neill who was a self-made hermit shunning conversation and company for the wilds of Glenmalure Hills.

The body of Mr O'Neill was found at his writing desk and he'd been dead for a number of months when he was discovered. Little is known about him, despite the fact he lived there for 24 years.

With no next of kin his life was a mystery and the reasons behind his reclusive lifestyle were buried with him. His funeral was officiated by the local Church of Ireland and Catholic priests and despite extensive efforts to locate some relatives there were no relatives found.

His funeral was attended by a small number of locals and neighbours as a mark of respect but nobody really knew him. He visited the local supermarket and butchers over the years and was known as being a bit cantankerous. However, a number of people who had dealings with him liked him.

Mr O'Neill appears to have been an avid reader and, after his death, a library of books and correspondence were found. For the 24 years he lived in Wicklow, Peter O'Neill kept a diary making daily entries. He also had a massive interest in rare and medicinal herbs, growing the most extraordinary herbs at his home.

In the programme, Mick Peelo tries to shed some light on the recluse.

'The story is about him and what he was doing there,' said Mr Peelo. 'He had an amazing collection of books and journals and grew some of the most extraordinary herbs. At one stage he told his local GP that he'd found the secret of the universe.

'After his death the local people got together and raised money for a gravestone because they didn't want his grave to be marked with only a wooden cross.

In the programme, Mick speaks to a number of people to try to solve the mystery of Mr O'Neill. A local priest thinks he may have been a professor of theology or scripture and an inscription on one of his books read 'To Peter, a searcher after truth'.

A retired garda who kept an eye on Mr O'Neill over the years also shares his insights while local people described how he preferred dogs to humans and was his own worst enemy. Ever since he can remember, Mick Peelo has been interested in faith and spirituality, especially in the things people do and believe that give their lives meaning and purpose. He has a degree in Theology and spent five years teaching in a Dublin secondary school before joining RTÉ in 1992.

Would You Believe will be aired on Sunday, December 11, on RTE1 at 10.15pm.

Wicklow People