The death took place on Friday 13 December 2019 of John Carmody of Gortnaclohy, Skibbereen.
John, who had been ill for some time, died at his home in the loving care of his family; his wife Margaret, children Brian, Treena, Orla, Taragh, Maeve, Aisling and Seán.
A native of Causeway in north Kerry, John spent most of his adult life working and living in County Cork, but he was a Kerry man to the core, first and always.
In latter years John was mostly well known for his involvement with the O’Donovan Rossa GAA Club, but his service to the community in Skibbereen dates back much further than that.
He began his working life as a tractor salesman with Tralee Motors at the age of sixteen. John spent two years in Tralee before joining Erin Foods on a trainee management programme. He started his training in Mallow, then spent some time in Thurles. In 1965 he was appointed a manager at the Erin Foods Fastnet Co-Operative Society factory on the Marsh Road in Skibbereen which went into production in October of that year.
Erin Foods Ltd had been set up by Cómhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teo (the Irish Sugar Company) and they established a number of food processing plants around the country, including Mallow and Skibbereen in County Cork. These were essentially co-operative societies. Fr Diarmuid Linehan, then CC in Skibbereen, was one of the main inspirations behind the Skibbereen factory and he acted as chairman of the Co-Op for some years.
In April 1967 Erin Foods Ltd reached agreement with the Pittsburgh-based H.J. Heinz Co to set up a joint company with the object of marketing and distributing products made by the Irish company. The future looked very bright for Erin Foods and for the Fastnet Co-Op Society factory in Skibbereen.
It was a huge boon to the greater Skibbereen area, both economically and socially. By September 1967 the processing plant was operating at full capacity and there were nearly 200 men and women employed full-time, with three eight-hour shifts working around the clock. As well as that, there were hundreds of farmers in West Cork growing vegetables to supply the factory.
In April 1967 then Taoiseach Jack Lynch visited the Skibbereen factory with Mr. Tony O’Reilly, Managing Director of Erin Foods. Tony O’Reilly, who later had a holiday home in Glandore, visited the plant in Skibbereen three times that year, and was accompanied by Mr. A. Forsyth, Operating Director of Heinz-Erin Foods Ltd on a visit in November.
While the potential for the Skibbereen factory was enormous, it always seemed to be peripheral to the long-term plans of Erin Foods and was never given the investment it needed. The Irish Sugar company took the decision in November 1980 to ‘cease market and financial support’ for the Skibbereen based plant and that, in essence, represented the death-knell for the factory. Although hopes were high that an alternative industry could be found, operations at the factory were wound down and it eventually closed at the end of August 1981 when the last fifty employees finished work.
An interesting aside to the story of the Fastnet factory is that in its final months, a local task force was set up to try and come up with an alternative industry for the premises. The task force, made up of members of management and employees, came up with several ideas, one particularly interesting one. The task force suggested that the plant could access local spring water and bottle it for sale. The idea was ruled out by Erin Foods executives. Who in Ireland would buy bottled spring water? It seems that the Skibbereen task force was just that bit too much ahead of its time!
Having arrived in Skibbereen in 1965, John Carmody met Margaret Harnedy in 1967 and following their marriage they set up home at Curragh, across the road from the Fastnet factory.
As well as starting a family, John and Margaret were very involved in many community initiatives in Skibbereen.
Skibbereen Geriatric Society was founded following a public meeting convened under the auspices of the St Vincent de Paul Society on 21 February 1970, with the objective of providing a Meals on Wheels Service for the older residents in the town and district. Right from the beginning John and Margaret were prominently involved with the great work of the Geriatric Society.
Meals were provided initially through the co-operation of St Anne’s Hospital, the Convent of Mercy, the West Cork Hotel, the Busy Bee and Carbery Restaurant. In 1977 the Geriatric Society installed a kitchen in the CYMS Hall in Market Street and it was then providing meals to 18 senior citizens every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. John Carmody was chairman of the Geriatric Society at that time and helped to deliver the meals, and Margaret organised the sourcing and preparation of the food – all voluntary work. The Geriatric Society later moved its operation to a purpose-built facility at Cara House, Market Street.
In 1973 Skibbereen Geriatric Society provided the first sheltered housing for elderly people in this area and built seven flatlets at Convent Hill. Such was the demand for these flatlets, that the Society undertook a further building project and the site was cleared for phase two of the development at Convent Hill in August 1978. John Carmody was chairman of the Society for this project. At the official opening of the new development in October 1979, John made a passionate appeal for State financial aid for groups like the Geriatric Society who were doing such important work in local communities.
Another thing we heard talk of this week was the ‘Tops of the Towns’, which John and Margaret were very involved in. In the 1970s the Tops of the Towns was a big event in Ireland. It was an initiative designed to generate social involvement at all levels within and between firms and community groups. In 1976 Skibbereen embraced the idea and local groups including ‘Shops and Offices’ Fastnet Co-Op Social Club, HQS, Drinagh Co-Operative and other groups put on variety shows of the highest quality in the Town Hall. ‘Shops and Offices’ won the overall award in 1976, the show was produced by Tom Walsh. Tops of the Towns ran for a few years in Skibbereen and was a marvellous social event, and also an important fundraiser for local charities.
Following the closure of the Fastnet factory in 1981, John and Margaret found themselves with the dilemma of having to make a new life for themselves.
John did have offers of other employment, but with his and Margaret’s considerable initiative and drive, and their desire to stay in Skibbereen, it seemed a logical step to open their own business. In 1982 John and Margaret bought and substantially refurbished a premises at Bridge Street previously run by Denis and Joan Davis.
The Carmodys took over the business on March 29 and having carried out extensive renovations to the three-storey premises which corners onto ‘the Cutting’ they opened a Centra Foodstore and An Cruiscin Lan Lounge Bar at the end of May 1982. It was the first Centra shop in Skibbereen.
With the foodstore open from 7.30am to 10pm, seven days a week, and the lounge bar, often open a lot later, it was a brave undertaking for John and Margaret, who at that stage had six young children. Through extraordinary hard work, their outgoing personalities and their great way of dealing with people, Margaret and John built up a very successful business over the next seven years.
All the while, John and Margaret were always generous with their time and their talents in supporting and promoting anything that would better Skibbereen. They were both very involved in the Skibbereen Welcome Home Week and Maid of the Isles Festival for many years, John acted as chairman and president at different times.
But John’s big passion was of course the GAA and his contribution to the O’Donovan Rossa GAA Club over more than forty years was enormous. His love for the GAA was fostered in his home parish, Causeway, a hurling enclave in what is otherwise a football-mad county.
He played hurling and football for the Rossas, hurling being his favoured game. He would be the first to admit that he didn’t perform any great gaisce on the playing field. Talking to some of his team-mates, we can safely say that he was very committed and passionate, and we’ll leave it at that!
But as a clubman, John Carmody was without equal. He served two terms as chairman of the O’Donovan Rossa club, the first from 1985 to 1989, and the second from 2008 to 2017. He was president of the club at the time of his death. In his first year as chairman of the club in 1985, Rossas won the County Intermediate Football Championship and he was involved with hurling and football teams at various levels over the years.
In his two terms as chairman he undertook major development works at Rossa Park. The improvement of the changing rooms, the playing facilities, the state of the art astro turf training pitch, the main pitch itself, development of facilities at the Marsh, were projects that were tackled under his guidance. And he didn’t to things in half measures; anything John did he did it right.
He was involved in so many community organisations, we often wondered how he sat through all those meetings. John Carmody had a restless energy that wasn’t suited to meetings. He was a doer, not a talker. While some of us talked and talked, John got out and did things and he had the great ability to motivate those around him to achieve what needed to be done.
In 1989 John and Margaret decided to sell their business in Skibbereen and they brought the Owenabue Inn in Carrigaline. Again, they brought all their business acumen and their personalities to bear in this ambitious undertaking and they made a huge success of the Owenabue Inn.
They both got very involved in the community in Carrigaline. John was a member of the Lions Club, and, as president, he led the initiative to build a scheme of housing for the elderly. The Abbey View Housing Scheme for the Elderly at Carrigaline was opened by the then President of Ireland, Mary Robinson in July 1996.
Having developed the Owenabue Inn into a hugely successful business, John and Margaret decided to try their hand at another business venture in Cork City. The venture did not go according to plan, and they then decided to move back to Skibbereen.
Straight away John immersed himself in various community projects in Skibbereen, but the Rossa GAA Club took up more and more of his time.
His second term as club chairman, from 2008 to 2017, saw a period of extraordinary improvements in the club. The various project he undertook completely consumed him. Probably only those who worked closely with him will ever know just how much work he did for the Rossa club in the last ten or twelve years. But John didn’t want or expect any plaudits; he didn’t want any clap on the back; he did what he did because he loved it. His reward was being at Rossa Park when it was a hive of activity. On a Friday evening in early summer, between the park and the Marsh, there could be up to ten or twelve different teams training, ranging in age from under-8 boys and girls, right up to adult level, in both hurling and football. That was John Carmody’ reward. And it will be his legacy!
While remembering the enormous contribution John Carmody made to the community in Skibbereen and Carrigaline, he was first and foremost a family man. John died at his home at Gortnaclohy on Friday night, 13 December, surrounded by his family. Margaret, his children Brian, Treena, Orla, Taragh, Maeve, Aisling and Seán; his ten grandchildren, his extended family, were all a source of great pride and consolation to him.
There was a very gracious and warm moment when John was removed from his home at Gortnaclohy on the way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for Requiem Mass on Monday morning. John was taken on one final visit to Rossa Park – a silent, private tribute with members of his family.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen, was packed to capacity for concelebrated Requiem Mass on Monday at 12 noon. Chief celebrant was Very Rev Michael Kelleher, Adm., Skibbereen, and he was joined on the altar by Rev John O’Donovan CC, Bandon, a native of Skibbereen.
At the end of Mass, Sean Carmody paid a beautifully poignant tribute to his father.
As the funeral cortege left the Cathedral, an extensive guard of honour was provided by members of the O’Donovan Rossa GAA Club, members of Skibbereen Fianna Fáil Cumann, of which John was a long-time member, and representatives of Carrigaline Lions Club.
Following prayers at the graveside at St. Patrick’s Cemetery, Noel Kearney, a former chairman of the Rossa GAA Club, delivered an oration. Then Con McCarthy, sang ‘The Rose of Tralee’ and ‘The Boys of Barr na Sráide’, two of John’s favourite songs. Fittingly, there was a spontaneous rendition of ‘Dear Old Skibbereen’, to bring to an end a heartfelt and sincere tribute to a man who served his family, his community and his club with great pride and distinction.
– P. O’R.