Shock at Loss of Mr. O’Connell
On 16th August 1972, a sad event for school and locality occurred in the unexpected death of Mr. O’Connell. There are several other references within this book detailing Mr. O’Connell’s major contributions to the school and its environs. Research has shown us that there were several tributes paid in the local press and by the VEC to him. Some of those deserved tributes are produced here:
Mr. Eamon O’Connell
Eamon O’Connell, 1907 – 1972
It will perhaps be for his indefatigable energy, bountiful ambition and lightning alertness of mind that those who knew him, were his pupils, or in any time came in contact with, will remember the late Mr. Edward O’Connell of Newcastle West.
His volubility – always an Irish trait – was never threaded with effete passages, but abounded with constructive practical ideas which were backed up by action.
Through his interpretation, at an early stage of his career, of Christianity as a practical service to the community Mr. O’Connell gave unlimited help to his pupils while at school and did his utmost to place them in positions after they had left.
His career, which could have turned into an endemically academic pattern was instead put at the disposal of the practical, and achieved many advantageous results for Newcastle West. From a scholarship, he was awarded in his early years – Edward O’Connell graduated with an honours degree from University College, Dublin, in 1931.
He was subsequently appointed first headmaster of Newcastle West Vocational School where he worked up to a short time before his death. He was interested both in raising the cultural level of rural communities and in improving agricultural areas physically.
With the co-operation of University College Cork, he was largely responsible for bringing adult education courses to Newcastle West and by the time of his death had been appointed Adult Education Officer for County Limerick.
It is also accepted that it was mainly due to his research and findings on the subject that Dromcollogher was recognised by the Government as an under-developed area and was allocated a factory and that his work in conjunction with the Newcastle West Development Association, played a major part in bringing industry to the town.
As well as the latter organisation, Edward O’Connell was also active within and gave advice to such bodies as Macra na Feirme, Muintir na Tíre and the ICA. Throughout his life, he had many articles published in local papers and at one period was editor of a now defunct Newcastle West publication, the ‘Monthly Observer’.
Prior to his death, he was in the process of completing two works, a historical atlas of Co. Limerick and a geographical and historical survey of his native parish Mountcollins.
Both of these works which should be of academic value are to be completed by two of his daughters, Ms. Kay Kingston, M.A. Lecturer in English at the University of Jordan, and Miss Loretto O’Connell, M.A. a member of the academic staff of University College, Galway.
After a brief period of illness Edward O’Connell, died at St. Patrick Dun’s Hospital on August 16th and was buried in Mountcollins.
A tribute to Mr. O’Connell from a colleague.
The following is an extract from a comprehensive tribute written by Richard Barry:
During his years in Newcastle West he worked unselfishly both for his school and his community. He has been called ‘The Tireless Champion of Rural Ireland and its People.’
He frequently acted as spokesman on delegations to the government. Mr. O’Connell fought all his life to have the poorer and hilly lands included in the disadvantaged areas.
He believed that the Irish people should be as self-reliant as possible – how true his philosophy is today can be measured by our dependence on imports and our failure to develop and make viable our own resources.
He contributed many thought provoking articles to The Monthly Observer.
Eamon was always a compassionate and humane person. He was respected by young and old alike and his memory is honoured locally by having the Welfare Home called after him.
In 1980 the Chairman of the Mid Western Health Board, Cllr. Liam Whyte (Tipperary) unveils the commemorative plaque and dedicates the Newcastle West Welfare Home in memory of the late Vocational School Headmaster Eamon O’Connell.
His wife expressed her appreciation to the committee of the Ten Knights of Desmond and to the mid-western health board for erecting the monument to the memory of her late husband Eamon (RIP) on July 27th 1980.
“Eamon O’Connell was a man of great humility and would never have entertained the idea that he would be honoured in this way, but I personally think that a happier choice could not have been chosen for this signal honour.
To my mind and to the minds of many others, I am sure, his name was always synonymous with the welfare of the student and the community he worked for and served, and a more appropriate tribute could not be found.
My family, grandchildren and myself were very proud to be present on this memorable occasion.”
Tom Aherne – a past pupil and prolific contributor of many articles to various local publications and now has a weekly column “Now and Then” in The Limerick Leader.
A tribute to the late Eamon O ‘Connell from past pupil Tom Aherne
I first encountered the late great Eamon O’Connell in September 1969 as a first year student in Newcastle West Vocational School. I can still picture him in a black suit and tie, and showing the signs of chalk on them.
We had him for a few classes before I realized that he was the Headmaster. It was easy to like him as he had a very relaxed style and he spoke in a manner that was easy to understand.
He never needed to use his position to gain our attention as his chats were always interesting and informative. Eamon taught us Civics as far as I can remember, but he would diversify to take in several subjects.
We also enjoyed a few field trips together as he shared his knowledge of the different soil formations with us. You could tell from listening to him that he had a great love for the land and its important place in Irish history.
Master O’Connell always encouraged us students to have pride in our own place and to develop a self-belief in ourselves. We were encouraged to become active in our own community and to join the different organizations as a source of further education.
He described education as “the ability to see as far as the top of one’s nose”. That is something that I will always remember him for, and also for his respect and kindness for us insecure students. Eamon instilled a spirit of adventure in us with his encouragement and vision for the future.
On a personal note he made a big impression on me in such a short space of time. I have been guided by his aims, getting involved in many different clubs, and organizations in my own community. It was a pleasure to have known him and we were all very saddened by his untimely death.
Many of the things Eamon had worked for had come to pass but he had not lived to see, the fulfilment of one of his greatest ambitions – the inclusion in the school syllabus of the Leaving Certificate.
Two years, after his passing, it was introduced and in 1977, two pre-employment courses, one for girls and one for boys were added to the senior syllabus.