Those We Lost

From left: Jeremy Ullick Brown, Jeremiah Healy, Eroni Kumana, James Murphy-O’Connor, Desmond O’Grady, Maureen O’Looney.

By Irish America Staff
October / November 2014

Jeremy Ullick Brown

1939 – 2014

Jeremy Ullick Browne, the 11th Marquess of Sligo and heir of Grace O’Malley of Westport House, passed away on July 22. He was 75. Brown helped to reinvigorate his family’s dwindling fortunes and Westport House itself when he opened it up to tourists in 1960, making Westport House one of the most widely known and visited tourist attractions in Ireland.

The building, located in County Mayo, is itself a marvel of beauty and architecture with a fascinating library, James Watt dining room, family portraits by Joshua Reynolds, and a stunning landscape that any “Downton Abbey” fan would be jealous of.

The Marquess of Sligo was born in London, England on June 4, 1939 to Denis Edward Browne and Jose Gauche, spending his early childhood in Suffolk. Denis Browne was a grandson of the fifth son of the 5th Marquess of Sligo, but a number of sons were either childless or had lost their children during the World Wars. The estate passed to Denis in 1953 who together with his son Jeremy opened Westport House to tourists in 1960. It was one of the first estate homes to do so.

Jeremy Brown went on to attend St. Columba’s College near Dublin and took a full time interest in Westport House. He introduced a children’s zoo and miniature railway and by the 1970s saw Westport House attendance expand to over 30,000 per year.

A wealth tax in 1976 almost saw the demolition of Westport House, but the move was later abandoned. In 1981, a group of IRA supporters invaded the house, waving black flags from the window in support of the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland.

In 1991, upon the death of his father, Jeremy Brown succeeded as 11th Marquess of Sligo. He had previously introduced a bill into the Irish parliament that would allow his five daughters to inherit Westport House; up until then it had only gone to the closest living male relative.

Today, Westport House has over 100,000 visitors a year and is an important tourist attraction for Ireland. Brown is survived by his wife of more than fifty years, Jennifer, and five daughters.

– Matthew Skwiat

Jeremiah Healy

1948 – 2014

Jeremiah Healy, the Irish-American mystery writer of the popular Cuddy private eye novels, has died at 66. His fiancée Sandra Balzo said that Healy committed suicide after years of depression.

Healy broke into the literary world in 1984 when his first novel Blunt Darts was nominated for the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America. Healy’s creation, John Cuddy, was a detective who explored the cavernous hideaways of Boston’s underbelly. Cuddy, an Irish widower and Vietnam veteran, was the heir of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Another Cuddy novel, The Staked Goat did win the Shamus Award and Healy would go on to receive fifteen more nominations throughout his career. The Chicago Sun Times dubbed the Cuddy books “one of today’s best mystery series.”

Jeremiah Healy was born in Teaneck, New Jersey on May 15, 1948. He attended Rutgers University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1973. Healy then worked for the New England School of Law in Boston where he taught from 1978 to 1996. Besides his Cuddy novels, Healy wrote the Mairead O’Clare thrillers under the pseudonym Terry Devane. In later years, Healy became a noted short story writer with his last book of stories, Cuddy Plus One published in 2003. More than just a crime writer, Healy tackled serious issues throughout his work including date rape, racism, AIDS, and assisted suicide.

Healy was a past president of Private Eye Writers of America and secured his status as a crime writing fixture when he became president of the International Association of Crime Writers in 2000. In 2003, he survived a battle with prostate cancer, but remained active, giving a number of lectures at the Boston Globe Book Festival, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the World Mystery Convention.

Healy is survived by his fiancée Sandra Balzo and a sister, Pat Pinches.

– Matthew Skwiat

Eroni Kumana

Unknown – 2014

Eroni Kumana, the last surviving man who helped rescue Navy Lt. John F. Kennedy and a group of PT-109 crew members from a shipwreck in the Solomon Islands, passed away August 3, he was 96.

On the night of August 2, 1943 Kennedy and the crew of Patrol Torpedo 109 were instructed to intercept a flotilla of resupply ships from the Japanese near the area of Kolobangara in the U.S controlled Solomon Islands. A Japanese destroyer spotted them and sunk the vessel in a blaze of fire, resulting in the death of two crewmen and numerous injuries amongst the 10 remaining passengers, including Kennedy. The future president along with his crew floated on debris from the wreck and swam for hours until reaching an island. They subsisted on coconuts for six days until Kumana and Biuku Gasa, a fellow Solomon Islander, came upon them, giving whatever food and drink they had. Kennedy etched a message in a green coconut and instructed the two to bring it to an Allied base miles away. Once the message was delivered, a rescue mission was sent, and Kennedy and his crew were saved. Thomas Putnam, director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, said after Kumana’s passing that he “was the last connection to this pivotal moment in history.”

Kumana was born and spent his whole life on a tiny pacific island called Rannoga near New Guinea. Virtually cut off from the rest of the world, Kumana worked as a fisherman, canoe maker, and subsistence farmer. It wasn’t until 1942, when war broke out in the Pacific, that the British authorities enlisted the support of the local natives. Kumana and Gasa signed up and worked as coastwatchers to track the Japanese presence on the islands. It was while on patrol that they found Kennedy and his crew.

Kumana’s rescue of Kennedy remained a highlight of his life, one he cherished closely. Max Kennedy, nephew of JFK and son of Robert Kennedy, said, “Jack was an extraordinary man, and I think in the short amount of time they got to know each other, I think Eroni picked up on how Jack was. And I think people feel a particular connection to the person they save.” Kenney was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his heroic efforts. He kept the coconut shell from the fateful rescue all his life, placing it on his desk in the Oval Office.

Kumana lived the rest of his life on Rannoga giving a few interviews while always speaking fondly of his brush with history. Kumana is survived by 9 children, 50 grandchildren, and 75 great-grandchildren.

– Matthew Skwiat

James Murphy-O’Connor

1925 – 2014

Known universally as Jim, James Murphy-O’Connor was an Irish rugby kicker whose technical influence is still in effect. He died in early September at the age of 89, having changed inestimably the style of kicking now ubiquitous in international rugby.

Born June 6, 1925 to Dr. George and Ellen Murphy-O’Conner, he was the eldest of six children in a devout Catholic household that emphasized public service. Three of his brothers became priests and one of his cousins was the prominent biblical scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor. James himself would eventually earn his living in Slough, England as a senior partner in his uncle’s medical practice, but not before making a name for himself boosting the morale of the sports-loving Irish populace.

At 6 ft. 6 in., Murphy-O’Connor was the tallest player ever to play for Ireland when he started his rugby career in 1954. But it was a then-questionable kicking technique that led to his success at more than five different teams during his professional years. In lieu of kicking the ball with the toe cap, Murphy-O’Connor booted the ball with the instep of his cleat, which many observers at the time believed could lead to broken ankles. They were wrong.

He continued to play throughout his medical training at St. Mary’s Paddington and at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, where his decision to represent Leinster, according to The Irish Times, led to a “mild rebuke from his father and uncle, who had both captained Munster, as the family had its origins in the city of Cork.”

After retiring from professional rugby, Murphy-O’Connor continued to follow sports of all kinds closely, and even became an accomplished golfer, competing in the Irish Amateur Open in 1955, and co-owned a series of race horses. He is survived by his wife of 57 years Anne O’Neill, their six children, and 20 grandchildren.

– Adam Farley

Desmond O’Grady

1935 – 2014

The famed Irish poet and translator Desmond O’Grady died on August 24. He was 78. O’Grady had lived the life of a man of the world, hobnobbing with the likes of Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, Pablo Picasso and Federico Fellini, whose film La Dolce Vita, featured a young O’Grady. The late Seamus Heaney once said that O’Grady was “one of the senior figures in Irish literary life, exemplary in the way he has committed himself over the decades to the vocation of poetry and has lived selflessly for the art.”

O’Grady was born in Limerick in 1935. He attended boarding school in Tipperary and, against his parents’ wishes, decided against attending university, opting instead for the life of a poet. O’Grady had loved poetry from an early age and was immensely influenced by T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. He attended a number of meetings at the Limerick Poetry Circle and at age 19 moved to Paris where he worked in the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop and taught English at the Berlitz School. While there, he published his first book, Chords and Orchestrations and became enmeshed in the city’s artistic circles, meeting Samuel Beckett and carousing with friends of James Joyce.

Emboldened with poetic zeal, O’Grady sent a poem to Ezra Pound who took him on as his secretary in Italy. During this time O’Grady became infatuated with translation and would eventually translate a number of poems from Irish, Welsh, Arabic, and Greek. O’Grady continued to travel all over the world, becoming a teaching fellow at Harvard where he received an M.A. and Ph.D. while also striking up a friendship with Robert Lowell.

He returned to Ireland in the 1980s, settling in Kinsale where he resided for the rest of his life. He published over 12 collections of translated poetry, and his own poetry includes The Wandering Celt and The Road Taken: 1956-1996. O’Grady was a member of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists, and was a founding member of the European Community of Writers. He received the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh fellowship in 2004.

An outpouring of remembrances, from politicians to intellectuals, have honored the late O’Grady. President Michael D. Higgins said that “he established a fine reputation as a translator of literary works from various languages into English. He leaves a fine collection of work, reflecting both his migrant experience and his affection for his homeland, that will be studied and cherished by future generations.” Adding that “from wherever he was writing, be it Cairo or Kinsale, his work invoked a sense of what was Irish in both heritage and contemporary life.”

– Matthew Skwiat

Maureen O’Looney

1922 – 2014

Chicago has lost one if its most prominent Irish figures. Maureen O’Looney, who died in late August at the age of 92, had been a generous, passionate, politicking, paragon of Irish America since she left Ireland and fell for Chicago’s Northside after visiting a family member there in 1953.

She stayed put, and her house became a halfway home for Irish immigrants to the neighborhood. She fed them, lent to them, sought employment for them, and let them use her address to set up bank accounts. When she opened Shamrock Imports in 1967, a self-descriptive store on Belmont and Laramie in Chicago, Irish and Irish Americans ploughed there by the droves.

“She was always smiling and always willing to help,” said John Devitt, president and co-founder, along with O’Looney, of the Gaelic Park cultural center in Oak Forest, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

That might be a bit of an understatement. O’Looney devoted her life to bettering the circumstances of her fellow countrymen.

In 1991, she flew to Virginia to hand-deliver visa applications, the same year she organized a group of protesters against Margaret Thatcher’s visit to the Windy City. She was a life-long and vocal Irish nationalist, and her store was lined with photographs of her with national figures, including Pope John Paul II, Senator Ted Kennedy, Cardinal Francis George, and actor Chuck Connors.

“She had her hand in everything,” John Gorski, president of the Irish American Heritage Center, told the Sun-Times. “She could gather more volunteers for a cause than anyone.” If it seems like O’Looney knew everybody, she did. Even former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daly was on her call list. “He’d always say, ‘Maureen, put a loaf aside for me,’” she once said.

Born Maureen Staunton in Bohola, Co. Mayo, she is survived by her daughter Theresa and four grandsons.

– Adam Farley

Albert Reynolds

1932 – 2014

Reynolds

Reynolds

Albert Reynolds, the former Taoiseach of Ireland and one of the leading peacemakers in the 1994 IRA ceasefire, died August 21 after a battle with Alzheimer’s. He was 81. He is survived by his wife Kathleen and seven children. Reynolds legacy is one that will not be quickly forgotten in Ireland and around the world. Niall O’Dowd, publisher of Irish America and founder of Irish Central, said after his passing that he “was the greatest leader of my lifetime” and that “he turned peace in Northern Ireland from an impossible dream to a startling reality.” Reynolds was a shrewd businessman who brought his many years of experience into the political arena, and while he only served as leader from 1992 to 1994, his indomitable and steadfast adherence for peace and the ending of the Troubles forever changed the course of Irish history.

Albert Reynolds was born on November 3, 1932 in Roosky in Co. Roscommon. He attended Summerhill College in Sligo and later began working for CIE. In his early business career he started a number of ventures including a newspaper and a pet food company while creating contacts on both sides of Ireland which would prove beneficial when he later ran for office. Reynolds first foray into politics began in 1977 when he was elected to the Dail for Fianna Fail in the Longford-Westmeath constituency.

Throughout the years he served in areas of finance, industry, and transport but was later booted out by Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1991 for supporting a vote of no confidence. He returned to politics the following year when he succeeded Haughey as Taoiseach, beating out Mary O’Rourke and Michael Woods.

A series of scandals marred Reynolds’ two years in office beginning with his firing of a number of Haughey supporters from their minister roles and becoming further weakened by a poor turnout of Fianna Fail in the elections. However, Reynolds accomplished more in two years than most Taoiseaches, and his fearless determination to bring about peace in the Downing Street Declaration in 1993 will keep his legacy alive for generations to come.

Reynolds’ life and work are being mourned on both sides of the Atlantic. He came to power during a decisive moment in Irish and American history. Former President Bill Clinton who worked alongside Reynolds offered his condolences saying of Reynolds, “His leadership alongside British Prime Minister John Major was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Good Friday Agreement, and our world owes him a profound debt of gratitude.” Flags are being flown at half mast on all government buildings in Ireland and the outpowering from many Irish politicians and businessmen are overwhelming. William Flynn, business leader and progressive in the Northern Ireland peace agreement, said of Reynolds, “Without any question, Albert Reynolds was the finest Irish gentleman ever to become Taoiseach. Without him and his lovely Kathleen, the beautiful Reynolds family would have never come to be. Without him, the savage civil warfare in Northern Ireland would have continued on and the Good Friday Agreement would have never come to be. Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was especially loved and honored as a man of peace in Ireland, in America, and in the world, generally.”

President Michael D. Higgins said Reynolds will be remembered as “a most dynamic Cabinet minister and Taoiseach with courage.” Current Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that “he played an important part in bringing together different strands of political opinion in Northern ireland.” Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness both tweeted condolences to Reynolds, Adams saying “Albert acted on the North when it mattered” and McGuinness added, “Albert was a peacemaker.” 

– Matthew Skwiat

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