Peadar Clohessy legacy one of ‘unselfish public service’

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

The remains of the late Peadar Clohessy TD are brought to graveyard in Fedamore this Tuesday and below, Des O'Malley gives the graveside oration at the funeral of his friend and colleague. Pictures: Dave Gaynor
THE late TD Peadar Clohessy was described this week and a humble and quiet man - but one who had played his part in a political revolution in Limerick and Ireland.

THE late TD Peadar Clohessy was described this week and a humble and quiet man - but one who had played his part in a political revolution in Limerick and Ireland.

At his funeral mass in Fedamore on Tuesday, his daughter Sinead said the decision to leave Fianna Fail and join Des O’Malley’s Progressive Democrats in the 1980s was “the hardest thing he had to do in his lifetime”.

This was a man who travelled the country with his father Andy and uncle (former Limerick hurler and TD) Paddy to listen to and meet the likes of De Valera, Tom Barry and Dan Breen. It had made him immensely proud to join his local Fianna Fail cumann before he was eligible to vote.

“He always felt he was brought up with its core values as a party of the people but change was happening and he felt Ireland needed that change so he signed up and became a founding member of a party that would change Irish politics in the years to come,” Sinead Clohessy told mourners at Fedamore Church.

Speaking at the graveside, Des O’Malley said the quarter mile queue at the removal in Ballyneety the night before spoke volumes of the respect and admiration in which his late friend had been held.

“That admiration and that popularity wasn’t confined to Limerick East or County Limerick but it extended to Dublin also, where he was held in huge respect by colleagues and foes alike,” said Mr O’Malley.

“In my experience, he was a loyal and steadfast man, the epitome of reliability. You could always depend on him.

“To me, it was a joy to work with a man who was not constantly consumed by personal ambition, by a desire for self-advancement or self-aggrandisement.

“Peadar was not what we might call a soundbite merchant nor was he a headline grabber. He had this great quality where he knew the difference between what really mattered and what was merely something in passing.”

The role of his late wife Jean in his career was acknowledged by all who paid tribute to Peadar Clohessy this week.

He “might well not have endured” the political stresses in the early days of the PDs were it not for her strength and support, Mr O’Malley said.

Peadar had “left behind a legacy that will be much admired. He has left us a great example of the tradition of unselfish public service that sometimes seems to be less prevalent today than it was in the past”.

It was only thanks to Paddy and Peadar Clohessy that Des O’Malley had managed to find his way to farflung places like Kilbehenny and Anglesboro during his 1968 by-election campaign.

It was not long after that Peadar Clohessy caught the political bug himself, being first elected to Limerick County Council in 1974. He would serve for 25 years there, including as chairman in 1992.

He was returned to the Dail once for Fianna Fail and on three occasions for the PDs, serving as marine and defence spokesman and assistant government chief whip between 1989 and 1992.

A man who loved Fedamore and his native county above all else, he had also easily made friends in Leinster House.

Sinead said that politicians on seeing O’Malley and Clohessy pass in the corridors of power were given to remark “there goes the parish priest and the curate”.

He came upon a successful political formula representing the Castleconnell electoral area in the 1970s, an era before mobile phones and social media when the personal touch was all-important, Sinead said. Jean and Peadar’s house in Fanningstown had an open door policy well after his retirement from politics.

“The local rural community he represented was very important to him and his career to follow. There he learned what it meant to be a public representative of the people, understanding the needs, concerns and issues of his constituents and trying to make things right for them. That grounded attitude and humble approach made him very accessible to people and this continued with him throughout his life,” said Sinead.

Peadar was recalled as a great GAA man who had hurled for his parish of Fedamore and was an avid supporter of Limerick.

Himself a farmer, he had a great love for the land and for nature. He devoured books on Irish history, politics and folklore and loved traditional music.

And parish priest Fr Michael O’Shea also recalled Peadar Clohessy as a man of great faith, who had “friends in high places” having twice met Pope John Paul II.

The funeral was attended by current and former ministers, TDs and senators including Michael McDowell, Tom O’Donnell, Liz O’Donnell, Martin Gibbons, Cathy Honan, John Dardis, Niall Collins, Ned O’Keeffe and Timmy Dooley.

Former Tanaiste Mary Harney visited the family on Sunday and her husband Brian Geoghegan was at the funeral. President Higgins was represented by Lt David Lyons.

Predeceased by his wife Jean, the late Peadar Clohessy, 80, is survived by sons Andrew, Patrick and Michael; daughters Alice, Margaret and Sinead; nine grandchildren, relatives and friends.