Evening Echo feature: The people we bid farewell to in 2017

Kathleen O’Sullivan

“I won’t survive another winter on the streets,” Kathleen O’Sullivan told volunteers from ‘Helping Hands Homeless Action Group’, almost exactly a month before she died. The night she said that, she was lying on cardboard in a doorway behind Cork’s Clayton Hotel, a doorway in which her aunt died seven years earlier – to the day – and in which she would die too.

Kathleen O'SullivanTwo weeks before she died, Kathleen called to the ‘Hope for the Homeless’ tent outside Brown Thomas and asked volunteers if they could give her pyjamas. None were available, but she told one volunteer that she was being hospitalised for a medical procedure and she was looking forward to spending a week in warmth and comfort, in a decent bed and getting regular meals. The volunteer said Kathleen seemed close to tears of happiness.

Kathleen O’Sullivan was found dead around 11am on Wednesday December 6 on Lower Oliver Plunkett Street, yards from the Simon Community shelter on Anderson’s Quay.

“She was very well known to Cork Simon and to us as well,” Christina Chalmers of ‘Helping Cork’s Homeless’ told Joe Leogue of the Irish Examiner. “She was very nurturing. She never took more than she needed from us and often contacted us about
someone else in need.

“If there was someone new on the scene she would bring them to us and introduce them.”

Chalmers said Kathleen, a native of Togher, was grieving the loss of her son, Anthony, in recent years and had been suffering from pleurisy, emphysema, and a number of other severe health issues, which were exacerbated by years of living on the streets. Chalmers said she was concerned Kathleen would become “another statistic” as more and more homeless people die on our streets.

Chalmers said Kathleen “once shared a room with a girl with mental health issues and suicidal tendencies, and contacted us immediately.

“She was a kind, caring, soft-spoken lady. I don’t want her to become another statistic. She had her demons, as do we all, but she was a lovely lady.”

Kathleen O’Sullivan was 44 years old. She was predeceased by her son, Anthony, and survived by her son Edmund and by four siblings. She was laid to rest on Saturday 9 December, in St Michael’s Cemetery, Blackrock. That morning, the doorway in which Kathleen, and her aunt before her, died was occupied by another homeless woman.

Dave Roche

It was the early Spring of 2015, ahead of Ireland’s Marriage Equality Referendum, when Dave Roche addressed the inaugural meeting of the Avondhu branch of Yes Equality Cork in the Blackwater Room of Fermoy’s rand Hotel. This was his home town, and at the end of the meeting, the supremely confident Dave suggested those attending the meeting might like to pose for a photo.

As the group stood in front of the room’s ornate white marble fireplace, this writer noted aloud that the fireplace’s centrepiece features a pair of angelic, nude and anatomically-specific male cherubs with their arms around each other. It probably wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that Dave Roche’s laughter could likely be heard from outer space.

Dave Roche Fermoy

David John “Rosie” Roche was born into a supportive Army family in Fermoy on February 4. 1964. He was blessed, given that he lived in an Ireland where homosexual acts were actually illegal until 1993. For Roche, gay rights became both a lifelong commitment and a full-time career. Dave was a founder member of the Cork LGBT Pride Festival, the CEO of the Cork Gay Project, a board member of the National LGBT helpline, and a driving force behind the Yes Equality Cork campaign and LGBT Awareness Week. He died from a heart attack while working on a DIY project at home in Terelton, near Macroom.

In the wake of Roche’s death, Senator Jerry Buttimer said Cork had lost an “inspirational advocate of courage” who challenged us all to think differently and to act accordingly.

Dave Roche was 54, and is survived by his partner, Paul, mother Phil, brothers John and Michael, sisters Michelle, Margaret and Bridget.

Mary Moynihan

Mary Moynihan was a talented dressmaker and member of the Deaf Community. She was a pioneer of Irish Sign Language (ISL) in the 1940s. She was a gifted communicator and taught ISL to her nieces, nephews and hearing siblings.

Graham O’Shea, Cork Deaf Club Chairperson, described Mary as having “a strong character, and she was great company… she was a great storyteller and (experienced) life as a deaf woman growing up in 1940s/50s Ireland.”

Mary Moynihan

Mary was sent to St Mary’s School for Deaf Girls in Cabra when she was seven. She left in 1955 when she was 16 years old. Mary’s brother Jim was also deaf, and he went to St Joseph’s Deaf School for Boys, which was only a mile from St Mary’s. Both schools were boarding schools and very strictly-run. They were forbidden from seeing each other, except at summer holiday times. Despite this, school was a happy time for Mary, and she made lifelong friends there.

In later life, Mary and her brother Jim would be inseparable, sharing a home together until Jim passed away in 2006.

When Mary finished school, she returned to Cork, to a job as a seamstress in St Marie’s of the Isle. Mary didn’t like the strict routine, and quit after two years, finding more enjoyable work as a dressmaker.

Mary and other deaf women would meet at a café at the Queen’s Old Castle. They were careful no-one saw them as they signed to each other because then it was considered taboo to sign in public.

When Mary grew up, family members were not taught or encouraged to use sign language. Instead, Mary communicated mostly via writing and gestures. Over the years she taught nephews, nieces and hearing siblings to use ISL.

Mary was a long-time member of the Cork Deaf Club, which meets on MacCurtain Street.

In December, Ireland officially recognised ISL, meaning deaf people can access State services in their own language. There were cheers from the public gallery as the Bill passed all stages in the Dáil, and deputies signed to the visitors.

Leas Ceann Comhairle, Pat The Cope Gallagher, looked up and gruffly said “It’s not usual, but you’re very welcome, and you’re welcome to interrupt proceedings, because it’s an historic Bill”.

Mary would have been delighted.

Mary Moynihan died tragically in a fire at her Model Farm Road home on Monday 6 November. She was 89.

Noelle Feeney

Noelle Feeney was –  by any definition – a superfan and, as many tributes described her, she was a mother to everyone at Cork City FC.

Noelle Feeney was the public face of Cork City FC for many years, and she famously carried a bottle of holy water with her to give the players luck before big games. She was a director of the club for a time.

noelle feeney

The devoted Cork City fan was a figurehead of the Leeside club for decades since she first joined the Cork City Supporters Club in 1988, just four years after the club was founded.

Long-time City fan Gerry Desmond once wrote that Noelle Feeney had the honour of being known by one name. He likened this to the many talented footballers we’ve seen from Brazil over the decades. Noelle was also named one of the 10 most influential women in European football by the Sunday Times in 2005. The Sunday Times said she was seventh out of 10 of the most influential women in football in Europe. That’s some achievement.

At Noelle’s removal, and later at her removal, every mourner had their own story to recollect about Noelle, aka Mrs Cork City, aka the First Lady of CCFC. She was beloved as the heart and soul of Cork City FC.

Noelle Feeney passed away in Marymount Hospice on Monday 5 February after an illness. Former Cork City player Neal Horgan paid tribute to her, describing her as, “Our Edith Piaf in the Evergreen. “Win or lose, she’d sing for her boys. Noelle Feeney. Simply the Best.”

Philip Leahy

Philip Leahy was a popular, witty, kind and friendly young man who in 2016 captained the Ballyhooly Junior GAA Football team to its first ever county final victory.

Philip was on a J1 visa to the United States when he got into difficulty and suffered
a cardiac arrest while swimming at a beach in Ocean City on 2 August.

Philip Leahy

In the immediate aftermath of Philip’s hospitalisation, a Go Fund Me page was set
up to raise funds for his medical treatment. It described the Leahy family as the cornerstone of the Ballyhooly community, and raised over €93,000.

Philip passed away at Maryland General Hospital on Sunday 6 August in the presence of
his mother Anne and his brothers William and Patrick. He was a young man very much in the mold of his father, Philip (Philly), who passed away two years earlier.

Philip’s loss devastated the lives of his vast circle of friends.

Philip was due to attend his conferring at CIT in October having received an honours
degree in business.

Philip Leahy was 22.

Jennifer Dennehy

Jennifer Dennehy was originally from Blackrock. She was found unresponsive by her partner in the tent they shared in Gillabbey Park on Friday 1 September. Jennifer had only been evicted from her apartment days earlier.

Christina Chalmers, of Helping Cork’s Homeless, said: “She was only on the streets since last week. She wasn’t accustomed to sleeping on the street. It can happen to anyone so quickly.

“She wasn’t your classical stereotypical homeless person on the streets with addiction.”

Jennifer Dennehy was 30 years old. She was a kind and decent person and a very talented writer. She was very good with children, and she was someone who deserved a full and very happy life.

Her funeral Mass heard that Jennifer had a big heart and always had a smile and a willingness to help others. Jennifer’s eulogy said: “She believed everyone was equal and all she wanted was to help others.
She was strong and courageous.” Sadly, and entirely predictably, Jennifer Dennehy
would not be the last homeless person to die in Cork in 2017.

Owen O’Callaghan

Owen O’Callaghan, who died in January aged 76, was one of Ireland’s most successful property developers and, over four decades, he reshaped the streetscape of Cork City through a succession of commercial, retail and housing developments.

owen o'callaghan

Born in Ballincollig in 1930, O’Callaghan was educated at Presentation College and Farranferris College. He qualified as a chartered surveyor in 1964 and went to work with a local engineering firm, later becoming a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Building.

He set up his own house-building company based in Youghal in 1969, and later established O’Callaghan Properties Unlimited, which continues to this day with his long-time associate John Dean and his son Brian as directors.

O’Callaghan’s biggest development was on the West Dublin Quarryvale site, which became the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre. This development led to O’Callaghan becoming embroiled in allegations of widespread bribery and planning corruption with which his name would be forever associated, allegations which became a major part of the Flood and later Mahon Tribunal.

Mahon found that O’Callaghan made corrupt payments to the lobbyist Frank Dunlop to influence politicians in their rezoning decisions. To his dying day, O’Callaghan rejected this finding, challenging it first in the High Court – which he lost – and the Supreme Court – which was still pending when he died.

It is no exaggeration to say that Owen O’Callaghan changed the face of Cork City. His influence can be seen in Opera Lane, in Paul Street, in Half Moon Street, in North Main Street, in Merchants Quay, in Lavitts Quay, in Mahon Point and in many other parts of Cork.

He was one of the few property developers to survive the cash largely unscathed, with only a few of his properties ending up in NAMA.

During his lunchtime, Owen O’Callaghan liked to stroll the streets and lanes of the city he loved.

Originally published in the Evening Echo on Saturday, December 30, 2017

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