TOM O’Donnell once said that appearing with his long-time comedy partner Paschal in New York’s Carnegie Hall was a “milestone” in the duo’s glittering scareer.
The famous Limerick comedian and one half of double act Tom and Paschal sadly died this week at the age of 88, but fittingly passed away at his home in Ballinacurra Road, where he lived for more than two decades and which was itself named Carnegie.
Tom made his final journey from a packed Dominican Church this Wednesday to Mount Saint Lawrence extension graveyard. Mourners fondly recalled his lengthy career as a comedian and later radio presenter and his passing was mourned as the “end of an era” by Paschal.
“It is the end of an era, another page turned in the history of Limerick entertainment,” said Paschal this week. “I first met Tom in the scouts in 1945. He was a personality, a great character, and we got on very well.”
The duo, who began their comedy-double act in 1959, were loved and feted across the nation for their memorable cast of characters.
They first performed their by-now legendary Christmas Crackers show in the Mechanics Institute in 1959 before being booked by Jack Bourke for his City Theatre - a run that would later bring them to stages around the world and national fame.
“They were great times,” said Paschal. “If we had been even three or four years earlier or later, we might not have gotten in, because it was just that changeover and we were caught between traditional and new showbusiness and had to adapt to that.
“We did set the field, I think Tom was the first to professionalise the business. He will be sadly missed because he was a character and the two of us, people would be saying if we were going downtown ‘what are they up to now?’” he laughed.
Tom and Paschal performed their final show in October 1994 in Shannon Airport. By the point of retirement they had achieved many huge milestones; two appearances in Carnegie Hall, one in the Royal Albert Hall in London, a show for four thousand people in Dublin’s Theatre Royal in 1962, an appearance on the first night of Teilifis Eireann in 1961, the longest running comedy show in Jamboree on the station, a sell out run for 63,000 people in the City Theatre over six weeks in 1963 - the list goes on and on.
Speaking to former Limerick Leader reporter Aidan Corr in late 2011, Tom explained that they were never “natural comedians”.
“Admittedly, neither Paschal or myself were natural comedians like some of the stand-up guys of today. We became comedians by accident, we got on well and once we got out there on stage we both felt at home.
“There was a great tradition in Limerick of mimicking people. It was a fun thing and nobody really took offence. My mother was a great mimic and Paschal also had that gift. We played on the Limerick accent in our sketches, using the names of well-known local characters and situations and factories that were in the news at the time. It was innocent stuff but it got the laughs.”
While they performed on stages around the country and beyond, they were always drawn to their home city.
“We were content to remain in our native Limerick,” Tom explained. “It might have been a fear factor of failure as our material was very Limerick-based, I don’t know, but although we got some offers to go to Britain and to the States for lengthy tours, we decided against it. Appearing in the Royal Albert Hall and in Carnegie Hall in New York were milestones of our career and those are nice memories.”
One of five children of Tom and Cissy O’Donnell, Tom was reared in Glenmore Avenue in Janesboro and educated at Sexton Street CBS School. He was one of a family of five children, brothers Paddy, Jack and Kevin and one sister, Eileen.
He is survived by his nephews and nieces - one of whom, nephew John O’Donnell, said that his uncle would be “badly missed”.
“He will be sorely missed in the entertainment world, he lived his life to the full. He was greatly loved around Limerick and the country,” said John.
A self-confessed soccer-fanatic, Tom played on the wing for Pike Rovers and later went on to become chairman of the club, as well as playing rugby with Young Munster. Councillor Maria Byrne, who as mayor in December 2010 afforded a civic reception to the duo, said: “Tom had a good word to say about everybody, he was always a man in very good humour and had an awful lot of good qualities.”