By Charlie Keegan
OLIVER Byrne, Sycamore Road, Rathnapish, Carlow, whose death occurred peacefully on Sunday night, 22 January, in the gentle care of the Sacred Heart Hospital, Carlow, was a native of the town’s St Killian’s Crescent and a lifelong employee of Irish Sugar.
Having suffered a fall in January 2020, Oliver, known affectionately as Ollie, was admitted to University Hospital Waterford, where he was treated for two months before coming back to Carlow and the Sacred Heart. Ollie and his late wife Judy were both patients in the Carlow hospital at the same time.
The former Judy Kelly was a native of Carlow town; the Kelly family ran a licensed premises at Corner House, Burrin Street, Carlow, known affectionately as Dunkirk. Judy passed away in November 2021.
Born in 1940, Ollie was son of James and Esther (née Burke) Byrne. His dad was a native of Graiguecullen, while Esther hailed from Staplestown Road, Carlow.
The life of Oliver Byrne was excellently charted by his son Fergal in a eulogy to his dad during his funeral Mass in the Cathedral of the Assumption on Wednesday 25 January.
Fergal told the large congregation that his father was the youngest and last of the Byrne family from 69 St Killian’s Crescent – “a place of lovely memories from our young years, where we were cherished by Esther and Jimmy and from youngest to oldest”.
Fergal went on to outline the other Byrne family members who had passed before his dad: Noel, father of Fr Paddy Byrne, PP, Abbeyleix, Eithne, Michael, Dick, Anna, whose death occurred in May 2021, Mary, Seamus and Billy, all of whom were remembered dearly.
He noted that joining the ceremony on webcam were dear friends of Oliver and Judy, brothers-in-law Joe and Noel, relatives Vera and Maura, along with neighbours from the Crescent, Staplestown Road, Wolfhill and former work colleagues in Irish Sugar.
Fergal went on to make particular mention of two people who were following the Mass on webcam. He said: “The furthest west is Dad and Mam’s third-youngest grandchild Carrie, who is in Tempe, Arizona and is dearly with us, just before the sun comes up on her day.
“And Doc, who is in Oughterard, Galway, a dear long-time friend of both Dad, Mam and the present generation of the Byrne family.”
Continuing his eulogy, Fergal stated: “Dad joined Irish Sugar in Carlow as an apprentice in 1956. He was sent to Bolton Street College, Dublin in 1964 – a period he enjoyed immensely, making lifelong friends with his landlady’s family. He became a draughtsman and eventually was promoted to the position of supervisory civil engineer.”
From conversations with Ollie’s former work colleagues, his children knew that his time in Irish Sugar is remembered not alone for his serious approach to his work but for his good humour and constant concern for his fellow workers.
“He enjoyed whatever role he found himself in – always bringing his ability to bring a bit of fun into every occasion.
“The stories are many – we’ve been hearing them over the past few days. The stories are too numerous to relate here, but we (family) always love to hear them.”
Fergal said Oliver formed many friendships during his working life, which endured right to the present day, particularly Paul, Patsy, Michael and Tony.
Turning to family life, Fergal said they lived in 29 Springfield Drive, Rathnapish in the early years. “Such a lively place to have started, as all homes were sugar factory employees and there was an army of children playing outside on the streets. Great fun for us, but no doubt havoc for all the mothers or families who were the homemakers and had to deal with all the bangs, cuts and wounded roaring children that had such freedom in the streets of Springfield, Pinewood and Larkfield.”
In the late 1970s, the Byrne family moved to live directly across from the sugar factory gate on Athy Road, residing there for a period of two years. “Dad worked long hours during the annual beet processing campaign and would get home for a short break, only to have to bolt out as a call came through that the pulp plant was on fire again!”
Then came the move to 4 Sycamore Road, Rathnapish, where they lived “with a lovely group of neighbours”.
Fergal commented: “This last house move was made possible by the greatest group of chancers and friends of Dad – the Pollerton and Finegan’s pub gang. Barry Delaney’s very rattly white van and the assembled crew of the Hunt, Brown, Broderick, Farrell, Lyons and Reilly families. I am sure there were others, but that is my memory.”
His dad, Fergal continued, was a wonderful listener and supported family and friends without judgment, or telling you that you have to do this or to do that.
“But you would come away with a sense of knowing what was needed in whatever situation you discussed with him. He actually made pretend business cards some time in the 1980s bearing Oliver and Judy’s names and with something like ‘professional, private counsel’ printed on them – ‘fees negotiable’.
“Dad,” he said, “had a wonderful talent to bring some laughter or lighten a situation without minimising or taking away from the problem being discussed.
“It is not like he had a serious side and a light-hearted side. He was Ollie and so easily approachable as a father, brother, uncle, in-law, friend, neighbour or work colleague.”
Music was a huge part of his dad’s life. Ollie was able to sing and play various musical instruments. These were talents that have skipped his three children, “despite what Angela and Adrian will tell you about playing the piano. But it didn’t skip his grandchildren. We have such an appreciation for the power of music and how it enriches our lives”.
After retirement, Ollie wasn’t long learning new skills and took on new ventures. “There are many, but I will just mention a very special one.
“I could not adequately honour the work Dad undertook for the Holy Angels Day Care Centre and how much the staff and children of the Holy Angels enriched his life. The Holy Angels provide ongoing love, care and development for children with special needs.”
Fergal urged the congregation to support the centre in any way possible, noting there has been tireless work towards moving to a new location for a long time.
He added: “The Holy Angels have honoured Dad today by closing early so they can be here to support us and remember their dear friend.”
Fergal finally went on to refer to what he described as the family’s “last house move”.
He explained: “Dad looked after Mam’s slow journey with Alzheimer’s at home with such love, empathy and devotion. The time came and Mam moved from Sycamore Road to the Sacred Heart Home in October 2015. It is called Sacred Heart Hospital, but it became our home that year, and until Sunday was Dad’s, too.
“All I can say to the cleaners, the cooks, the tea-makers, the carers and nurses, office staff and board members is ‘thank you from the bottom of our hearts’ for the love, attention, care and especially the dignity you gave Judy for seven years and Dad for almost three years, the last few of which was something we never imagined, but got through. It is a vital and precious place in Carlow’s community and again I invite you to support it any time you can.”
Fergal extended sincere thanks to funeral director Rory Healy and the Healy family, “who have looked after the Byrne clan numerous times”, referencing their incredible professionalism and attention to detail.
In conclusion, Fergal thanked his cousin Fr Paddy Byrne, celebrant of Ollie’s funeral Mass, who had been so supportive, and also had kind words for the extended Byrne family for their support at a time of such great loss.
Oliver had reposed in Healy’s on Tuesday evening, 24 January, while Fr Tom O’Byrne, Adm, Carlow was also present and offered prayers of support.
At the start of his funeral Mass on Wednesday, a number of significant symbols of Oliver’s life were brought forward, narrated by Fr Paddy, who concelebrated Mass with Fr O’Byrne. Oliver’s great friend Paul Lyons brought forward a white Irish Sugar coat, reflective of his working life. Oliver’s love of music was symbolised by the presentation of his guitar by his daughter-in-law Leon Byrne. Judith Doyle, Oliver’s eldest grandchild, brought up his camera – he was a keen photographer all his life.
Readings at Mass were by Oliver’s daughter Angela, while his grandchildren recited the Prayers of the Faithful, with the Offertory gifts being brought forward by two of Oliver’s nieces, Patricia Mooney and Martina Byrne.
The wonderful singing of hymns was by Caitriona Kelly, with organist Clare Cashin.
Oliver is mourned by his children Fergal (Graignamanagh, Co Kilkenny), Angela Doyle (Rathcrogue, Carlow) and Adrian (Devon, England), son-in-law Brian, daughters-in-law Leon and Sinéad, cherished grandchildren Judith, Maria, Emma, Aishling, Holly, Carrie and Lily, great-grandson John, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law, nephews, nieces, relatives and many good friends.
The Month’s Mind Mass for Oliver Byrne was celebrated in St Clare’s Church, Graiguecullen on Wednesday 22 February.