Ni beidh a leithéad ann arís
The ‘Master’ passed away peacefully in his home town, Bantry, on December 18th last in his 91st year. His passing severed a long link with his adopted village Ringaskiddy, where he devoted every telling moment for the common good. Adieu, farewell agus slán abhaile ar neamh, a Dhónal dilis.
Donal O’Connor was born in Bantry in 1927 and pursued a teaching career, qualifying in 1947. His very first posting was in Ballyhea but after six months moved to Monkstown School near Cork Harbour. He lifted anchor again in 1952 to move further down the Harbour to Ringaskiddy School where he filled the position of Principal. Ringaskiddy had a new twenty five year old principal full of energy and ambitions. He had laid his foundations and he would go on to carve out and mould a wonderful career.
The early days; Like all small rural communities, the GAA Club was an integral part and soon Donal joined the ranks. He was a splendid footballer but had to start from scratch with the caman. He went on to play with Carrigdhoun at Senior level. A young energetic person will never be short of work and he became Club Secretary where his views and vision put the Club on a new wavelength. The Shamrock Hurling & Football Club had a very old tradition of staging concerts during the winter months in the Forrester’s Hall to raise much needed money. The Club had built up a reputation and among their ranks was an officer who wrote plays annually for their concerts. Donal caught the bug and obviously was hugely impressed with the local talent that took to the boards. In the 1950’s he organised Irish Dancing lessons on Sunday afternoons in the Foresters Hall.
Drama: In 1957 he formally set up the Shamrock Drama Group that went on to achieve great things. They would be found competing in all the great Drama Festivals and entering the winners rostrum on several occasions. Donal began to write his own material, sketches and plays. He now had really got the bug. He would go on to produce a major play every year. His very first production was Sean O’Casey’s play ‘The shadow of a Gunman’. In all he produced nearly fifty full length productions. This very ambitious programme of production needed a bigger hall with all the necessary facilities.
A site was acquired in the centre of Ringaskiddy village and a brand new Community Hall was erected with a magnificent modern stage and lighting systems. Donal was the initiator, the motivator and the huge driving force ensuring that this great dream would come through. On Saturday 13th January 1968 their very first show was put on in the new hall. In Ringaskiddy School Donal introduced the pupils to drama with great success and he wrote new plays every year, some of which were translated into Irish. For many years the School entered the Feile Schoil Dramaiochta in Dublin, a total of twenty one in all. Ringaskiddy won a record sixteen All Ireland Titles. He also used informal drama improvisation to teach pupils a love of the language. From this came the Irish Learning Scheme known as ‘Modh an Aoibhnis’. Bord na Gaeilge made a video of this system of teaching, which was later used in schools around the Country.
Other Initiatives; In 1970 Donal formed the Ringaskiddy Youth Talent Festival. It had a small and humble beginning but over the years grew into a huge event staged over the late Spring and Summer months. It catered for every conceivable type of talents. It was one of the biggest in Ireland running only second the annual Feis Maithiu.
The Ringaskiddy Youth Group was another one of his brave ideas, again providing schemes and services for all the youngsters of the locality. This led to the production of a monthly RAG MAG which was full of local and interesting information. Interaction and communications were good and healthy within the community.
When Shanbally Church was renovated in 1958 Donal headed up the Development Committee and all targets and deadlines were met. With Donal at the helm, other fine people of like mind were drawn in. In 1984 when the GAA celebrated its centenary year The Shamrock Drama Group put on a special show to mark the occasion called ‘Centenary-itis’. It ran for three nights in the Community Hall with full houses. In 1992 he was elected a Vice-president of the Shamrock GAA Club.
Worthy Awards and Recognitions; Many National and Local Institutions acknowledged the work of this great man at various stages of his career. In 1975 the RTE popular programme ‘My Own Place’ featuring the life and times of Donal O’Connor in Ringaskiddy. In 1980 he was nominated to receive one of The ‘People of the Year Awards’. At a banquet held in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel on November 27th he was presented with his Award by Government Minister Dr. Michael Woods. Joining Donal on the rostrum that night were Lady Valarie Goulding, Fr. James McDyer from Donegal and Fr. Eoin Murphy, based in Dublin, a brother of our own local curate Fr. Frank Murphy.
To mark his retirement from teaching in 1991, The GAA Club presented Donal with a solid wood bust at their annual Dinner dance. The same year he received the West Cork Achievements Award for his huge contribution to drama.
Donal made a huge journey through life and touched so many thousands of people in a very positive and beneficial way. An engagement or encounter with Donal O’Connor rendered many plusses. Donal gave so much from a bottomless pit marked with sincerity and goodness.
We will not see his likes again, agus‘ suaimhneas Síoraí dá Anam’.