In his philosophising on the merits of country life the New England essayist Emerson wrote, “The virtues of urban dwellers are inherited from their rural ancestors; their vices are their own.”
John O’Neill was one of those who brought to the urban environment all the virtues of country life with its acceptance as a rule of life that “Ní neart go cur le céile.”
His concern for others spread out from his own family to his neighbourhood and beyond, to the county to which he was fiercely devoted, to the country to which his loyalty had an almost religious quality, to the Church to which he was fervently loyal from birth to death.
For all of his 60 years in Clonmel he was a working part of all kinds of charitable, national and sporting organisations. He was a familiar figure at a myriad of churchgate collections for all sorts of worthwhile objects– the monthly collections of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Lourdes fund for incapacitated pilgrims and a host of others. The spirit of the meitheal when neighbour helped neighbour he brought with him from his rural home to the town where he earned his living, married and reared his family.
From Ballytineety in West Tipperary where his people had farmed for generations he came to Clonmel in the early Fifties to work as a clerk in the offices of South Tipp Co.Council. Within a few years he had transferred to the offices of the Agricultural Committee on the quay which later became the Acot offices and subsequently evolved into Teagasc. It was there he spent most of his working life until his retirement.
His involvement in farming did not end with his day at his desk. Whether with individual farmers who called to his office for advice or with local farming representatives involved in committee work, he was known as a man who had the sympathy and understanding of the countryman for the problems and the hardships of farming life.
He worked in a voluntary capacity with a number of rural organisations, most notably with the local IFA with whom he served as recording secretary from 1966 to 1987 which were the formative years of that body. Chairmen come and go but secretaries remain and he was the guiding light for no less than nine chairmen of South Tipp IFA.
He served in a somewhat similar capacity with the South Tipperary Game Council for a number of years.
All things in any way Gaelic had a hold on his time and his energy. In days when there was a very active Cumann Gaelach in Clonmel he was an active presence at all its activities. He was treasurer of the committee which was responsible for the naming of the ring road as the Frank Drohan Road in memory of the town’s leading nationalist personality during the years of the national resurgence.
He was treasurer of the town’s Spirit of 1916 committee which was responsible for the erection in the precincts of the Town Hall of the memorial to the 43 men who mobilised under Frank Drohan in Easter Week and which was also responsible for a number of school projects on the 1916 theme which promoted a flood of entries from schools in South Tipperary. All of these things were a drain on the time of those involved but John was one of those who did not put a price on his time when it was spent in a good cause.
The GAA, its activities and all it stood for, played a major part in his life. He was a member of St. Mary’s hurling club from the time he first arrived in the town and a vice-president of the club. He was a founder member of the GAA Centre of which he was vice-chairman and a trustee up the time of his death. Few Tipperary teams took the field in his lifetime but he was present to lend his support and in recent times he took pride in the involvement of his son Paudie with Tipp’s senior team.
A positive force in whatever he was engaged, he was an active member of church committees, was a lifelong Pioneer and was a familiar figure as a minister of the Eucharist in the Church of the Resurrection for many years. Never merely a passive member of any group, he was wholehearted in his support of whatever he considered worth belonging to.
Above all, he was a devoted family man and he would have been deeply appreciative of the huge crowds who supported his wife, Tess, his daughters, Maire and Grace and his sons, Paudie, Seamus and Terry during the days of his reposing and funeral.