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JOURNAL 192 OBITUARY

JOHN O’MEARA (1921-2016)

Born on 16th October 1921, John O’Meara lived in Ballymote, Co. Sligo, until 1934, during which time he developed a deep passion for the railway, becoming friendly with many of the engine crews even at this early age. Sadly, in that year, John’s father died, and John went to live in Claremorris, where his fascination with the railway business remained undiminished. In the early 1940s, on completion of schooling, John went to live in Dublin, where he pursued a successful commercial career, while also continuing his railway interests and travels.

In 1957, John married Marie Noone, and they went on to have four children and, later, grandchildren, and to enjoy a long and happy life together. While John’s railway enthusiasm never waned, he managed to combine this with a full and active family life, a balance not always easily achieved, but no doubt facilitated by John’s warm and engaging personality.

JOHN AND THE SOCIETY

John O’Meara’s name first appeared in the Society’s membership list in Journal No. 3 of July 1948, with an address at 116 Lower Baggot Street, Dublin. John was soon active in the Society’s formal structures. In Journal No. 7 of Summer 1950, he is recorded as “assisting”, along with Sam Carse, in “making arrangements for meetings”. At the AGM of 28 September 1950, he is recorded as serving on the Committee as “Liaison Officer” and was re-elected to the Committee at its fifth AGM on 20 September 1951. He was again re-elected in 1953, and in 1954 was serving as Hon. Assistant Secretary. In 1955, there was a rare event, a contested election for the Committee, in which John topped the poll. In 1957, he presented his first paper to the Society, “The Meath Road”. That year also brought another contested election, in which John once again topped the poll, and took up the post of “Programme Secretary”. Another momentous change of 1957 was John’s address changing to Beaumont Crescent, where he and Marie continued to live for their long married life together.

By the AGM of 1958, John’s title had changed to “Acting Programme Secretary” and he also presented the Secretary’s Report at that meeting. In the Summer of 1959, John led the Society’s first lengthy tour, an eight-day journey around Ireland in June, using mostly service trains with some specials to cover non-passenger lines. The highlight for the only Junior Branch participant in the group was an incomparable day on the Donegal, railcar to Letterkenny, carriage on the goods from Letterkenny to Donegal Town, and a special railcar on the branch to Ballyshannon. A never-to-be-forgotten experience in the Donegal’s last year, and with sunshine from Strabane onwards, after a damp start. In that year, the Society had 312 members, 165 being located in Ireland, this information being reported to the 1959 AGM by the indefatigable John, on this occasion speaking on behalf of the “Acting Secretary”.

1960 brought John’s second paper to the Society, “The Beet Campaign of 1959”.  At the 1960 AGM, John’s title became “Hon. Programme Secretary”. However, in Society Bulletin No. 4 [see endnote], of October 1963, the terse statement appeared that “Members have been informed that Mr. J. O’Meara has resigned from the position of Hon. Programme Organiser, and that the Committee has appointed Mr. P. J. Currivan to act in his place in a temporary capacity.” Apparently there had tensions, and not the first time, between John and PJ Currivan about John’s non-adherence to the programme set out in the circular for an outing. In fairness to John, deviations from plan were not always within the Society’s control, as witness our return from Baltimore, arriving at Kingsbridge at 03:40 of St. Patrick’s Day, 1961 (or rather the following day), and getting back from Rosslare via Waterford at 00:05 in the September the same year!

Memories are of a fractious and uncomfortable AGM that year, but the outcome was that P J Currivan went on to occupy the role of Programme Organiser until 1973, a period which saw also the second and final Steam Tour of Ireland in 1964, while John stood aside from the Society for a period of years.

JOHN AS AN AUTHOR

Happily the passage of time saw a resumption of participation in the Society by John and on 19 March 1977, he delivered a paper on the subject of Whit Week, 1961. That was the first of a series of talks and papers by John, several multi-part, which were subsequently published in the Journal, 26 in total so far, with a few still to appear in print. A full list of published papers appears below.

John was certainly one our more prolific authors and his presentations always attracted substantial attendances. He had a unique talent for recreating vividly in words the railway ambience of the past. He had astonishing recall for the journeys he made, but his papers were always underpinned by original research in the Society’s Library and Archive. John had a particular rapport with railway staff, especially enginemen, and his ability to remember those with whom he travelled on the footplate more that half a century ago was legendary. John’s final talk to the Society took place on 14 February 2008, when he read his paper “Banteer to Kenmare”.

The contribution of his wife Marie must also be acknowledged, who typed out his papers from John’s manuscript notes. John’s prolific output was enabled in no small measure by Marie’s behind the scenes activity. Marie was also most supportive of John in his railway activities. On a night when John was to present a talk to the Society, she unfortunately suffered a fall in their home and had to go to hospital. Despite the circumstances, she insisted on John’s going to the Society meeting and presenting his paper! Happily, she made a good recovery, but John was inevitably a little distracted during his talk.

John was a loyal attender at Society meetings and had his regular position, in one of the several throne-like heavy railway officer chairs which came to the Society from the GNR offices, and while the chair has not remained vacant, it remains a continuing reminder of one of the Society’s most esteemed and respected members.

It is agreeable to record also that the Society honoured John with Honorary Membership on 7 September 2006.  On 8 November 2011, at a lunch in Dundalk, this distinction was likewise conferred on Desmond Coakham, who travelled from Belfast for the occasion. John and Marie were also present at this lunch, to mark John and Desmond’s shared 90th year.

John passed away on 23 September 2016 at the age of 94.  The funeral took place on 27 September. The Society was represented at his funeral and members also paid their respects at his lying in repose the previous evening. We extend our sympathy to John’s wife Marie, their children Paul, Anne, Clare and Eoin, John’s sisters, his grandchildren, and his very many friends.        MJW

JOHN’S PAPERS FOR THE SOCIETY

Title

Journal No.

Issue

Vol. No.

Page Nos.

The Meath Road

20

Spring 1957

4

218-240

The Beet Campaign of 1959

26

Spring 1960

5

228-251

Whit Week 1961 – Part 1

75

February 1978

13

168-170

Whit Week 1961 – Part 2

75

February 1978

13

179-182

The Beet Campaign of 1980-81

86

October 1981

14

283-289

Thurles to Shelton via Waterford

94

June 1984

15

219-231

The Royal Visit of 1953

98

October 1985

15

412-420

Shelton to Bray – Part 1

100

June 1986

16

70-81

Shelton to Bray – Part 1

101

October 1986

16

133-143

The Ballinrobe Branch

103

June 1987

16

214-226

The Athenry & Tuam Railway

108

February 1989

17

22-37

Mishaps of 1867-71

113

October 1990

17

270-279

GNR(I) 1939-46

115

June 1991

17

373-389

Three Incidents

119

October 1992

18

158-164

The GNR (1) Crisis, 1938

123

February 1994

18

342-350

Government Control 1917-19

134

October 1997

19

423-438

The War Years 1939-45 - Part 1

138

February 1999

20

188-202

The War Years 1939-45 - Part 2

139

June 1999

20

241-249

The War Years 1939-45 - Part 3

141*

October 1999

20

318-332

The Mountmellick Branch

144

February 2001

21

2-12

The Cashel Branch

146

October 2001

21

130-147

The Tullow Branch

148

June 2002

21

258-281

Mallow – Fermoy – Mitchelstown

153

February 2004

22

17-33

Mallow – Banteer – Newmarket

157

June 2005

22

258-269

On Reflection – Part 1

159

February 2006

22

397-402

On Reflection – Part 2

160

June 2006

22

462-479

Accident at Moyvalley

19 November 1919

163

June 2007

23

66-68

The Horseleap Branch – Part 1

167

October 2008

23

332-338

The Horseleap Branch – Part 2

168

February 2009

23

390-395

Accident at Church Road, North Wall, 10 November 1944

170

October 2009

23

518-519

Accident at Coollooney Midland

22 December 1943

172

June 2010

24

114-116

Tralee to Castleisland, Dingle and Fenit 

179

October 2012

25

168-183

Banteer to Kenmare

187

June 2015

26

258-271

* This should have been 139, but was inadvertently incorrectly numbered. The following issue of February 2000 was numbered 141a.

Railtours Ireland Appreciation

Johnny O' Meara joined Railtours Ireland as a Host (as our tour guides are known), a few days after the company commenced operations in June 1998. The planned operating model had envisaged a self-guided tour on the rail portion, but it was very soon realised that this wasn't working and we sought some help from retired friends and acquaintances from the IRRS and RPSI - to chaperone our guests.

Johnny took to his new role with flair and enthusiasm and with his fellow hosts was responsible for the early success of the fledgling company. He escorted groups of clients all over the country but was particularly fond of our 'Ballykissangel’ tour, which used the lunchtime departure of the Rosslare Harbour train of MkII carriages hauled by an 071 class loco to Arklow and thence by coach to Avoca. He took a very personal interest in the presentation of this train and in particular our reserved carriage - this was a time when cleanliness of the exterior and interior was not always consistent! On many occasions Johnny would suggest to his friends in the IÉ staff in Connolly that train should be run through the wash again – and, as he used to say himself, if any of the toilets looked as if the elephant had been, he would ensure that it was dealt with before his guests boarded. If time precluded a return to the wash - the fire hose on the platform was quickly pressed into service! 

His encyclopaedic knowledge of Ireland and her railways endeared him to many visitors, and this resulted in many letters and phone calls from our guests who had experienced his empathy, sheer warmth, and passion for what he did. We were delighted that he was able to continue with us into his ninety first year - we will miss him!                 JD

MAURICE GAFFNEY (1916-2016)

Maurice Gaffney was not a member of the Society, but apart from the distinction of being Ireland’s oldest barrister and still practicing at the time of his death, Mr Gaffney acted on behalf of CIÉ on various occasions during his long legal career, which commenced in 1954.

He was considered to be particularly expert in the field of railway law, an area in which activity was certainly at a low ebb for much of the latter part of the twentieth century, but which came into prominence again with new developments at the turn of the twenty-first century.

His final recorded appearance in a railway case seems to have been at the Public Inquiry in November 2006 on the Glounthaune-Midleton Rail Project, when he addressed the Inquiry on behalf of Coras Iompair Éireann, the applicant for the project.  

RPSI Appreciation

John was also a long-standing and respected member of the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI). An enthusiastic volunteer over many years, he assisted in the carriage department in both Mullingar and Dublin before in more recent years becoming the regular ticket inspector on railtours. With his tremendous knowledge of railway matters, and the contacts he built up over the years with a large number of railway professionals, John proved to be a great ambassador for the RPSI. There were few stations on the IÉ network where he wasn't known to staff. With these contacts a warm welcome for a railtour and its participants was assured.

Even in advancing years when he had passed the ticket clipper to a new generation, John remained a regular traveller on railtours - always ready to offer advice, reflecting on past times, or just enjoying himself. The RPSI has lost a dedicated and most valuable member. DH/JMcK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Endnote

The Bulletin” was a short-lived venture for the years 1962 to 1964, under which Society Matters and Current Developments were recorded separately from the Journal, which was then half-yearly.  The Bulletins appeared also half-yearly, between the Journals. Bulletins ceased when the Journal moved to three times a year publication from February 1965.

 

 

ALAN FRENCH

Alan French died suddenly and unexpectedly in London on 13 September 2016. Alan will be known to many Dublin members as a regular attender and researcher at the Tuesday Library nights. At the time of his death, Alan was nearing completion of his first paper for the Society, and it is hoped to publish this in due course.

A Memorial Service for Alan was held at St. Paul's Church, Glenageary on 4 February 2016, at which the Society was represented.

We extend our sympathy to Alan’s wife, Sarah, and to Alan’s sisters and brother.

 

Copyright © 2017 by Irish Railway Record Society Limited
Revised: August 18, 2017 .

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