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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Call for mourners to attend Dublin funeral of elderly Irish man who died alone in UK

Joseph Tuohy passed away this summer after spending most of his life in the UK.

Joseph Tuohy (R) with Brian Boylan (L)
Joseph Tuohy (R) with Brian Boylan (L)

AN ELDERLY IRISH man who died alone in London is to return to his final resting place later this month.

87-year-old Joseph Tuohy, originally from Toomevara, close to Nenagh in Co Tipperary, passed away this summer after spending the majority of his working life in the UK.

Now an appeal is being made for members of the public, especially anyone with a connection to Tipperary, to attend his funeral so his “last goodbye will not fall on deaf ears”.

Joseph, who remained private all of his life, died in a nursing home in Islington, north London, with his remains being cremated.

Margaret Brown, a volunteer at St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre which raises money for the Friends of the Forgotten Irish Emigrants every St Patrick’s Day, reveals how she received an out of the blue letter detailing the hope that this man could be brought home.

“When the letter came through the post box little did I know the sad story I would read about,” she said.

“I know very little about this man but I think as a forgotten Irish emigrant he shouldn’t go to his final resting place without people around him.

“His passing shouldn’t fall on deaf ears. If any members of the public could attend his funeral mass in St Joseph’s Church in Glasthule, it would be wonderful.”

Funeral in Dublin

Margaret explained how the letter was sent to her by Brian Boylan, who runs the St Gabriel’s Homeless Hostel in London, and that some of her group’s fundraising here helps with their annual costs.

“There is a commemorative plaque on Carlisle Pier [in Dun Laoghaire] where thousands of these emigrants left from to find work in England organised and paid for by us. It is so important that we never forget them…

“Some of these people and their descendants are now living their lives in varying degrees of need, ranging from crippling poverty, mental health issues, living a hand-to-mouth existence, loneliness and estrangement with challenges not everyone could handle.

“Many sent money home to help their families at a time when hardship was widespread which was one of Ireland’s darkest economic periods following World War II.”

A funeral mass will be held at 10am on 27 September at St Joseph’s Church in Glasthule, Co Dublin, before Joseph’s ashes are brought to Tipperary and laid to rest in consecrated ground.

Unmarried mother

Brian Boylan, who runs St Gabriel’s Homeless Centre in London, was made Joseph’s next of kin by Islington Council when the elderly man passed away.

Speaking from London, Boylan revealed some details about the late Tipperary man, including how he was taken from his unmarried mother and sent to live in orphanages when he was around five-years old.

“It was the 1930s and a very different Ireland. His mother became pregnant while working in New York. She was alone and abandoned but managed to return home to Ireland.

“He told me they had a special bond he never forgot. She was a loving mother who worked very hard on various farms cooking.

“She protected him as best she could and he felt secure, he told me. He felt very loved by her and knew nothing of the bad feelings felt towards his mother being unmarried. She shielded him from all of that.”

“But Ireland of that time was not a place to be an unmarried mother and the various authorities were just waiting for a slip-up by her so he could be put in to care.

“One day while at a farmer’s house, Joe was playing close to an open fire. He slipped and burnt his leg. As a result his mother was brought to court and Joe was taken from her.”

‘World-famous’ tailor

Boylan also recounted how Joseph could have been “world-famous and made a lot money” from his tailoring skills.

“From the age of 14 to 16, Joe worked as a tailor in the St Joseph’s Industrial School in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

“He was only one of two boys there who passed the then Primary Cert. A lay teacher asked the religious order if Joe could sit the Post Office Exams but they refused.

“Joe was one of the brightest people I knew. Even as he became more confused with age, he was still able to beat the contestants on Channel 4’s TV quiz show Countdown.”

Boylan explained that Joseph never sought compensation over alleged child abuse from St Joseph’s Industrial School, but did write to them to express “how some brothers were kind to him” and “never mentioned the others who weren’t”.

Upon leaving the orphanage at the age of 16, Joseph went to work in a clothes factory as a tailor in Waterford, where he made men’s suits.

“So good was he at his job, he was put working in a room on his own,” Boylan said.

“The other workers didn’t like that and they threatened to go on strike. The situation was eventually calmed.”

‘Symbolic of suffering’

But Joseph eventually left for London, where he remained for the rest of his life.

“He continued to work as a tailor in London and he was so good at what he did. If only he had a financial backer he would have gone to the top of his field.”

Boylan visited Joseph several times a week so he would not be alone.

“Before he died, he told me he wanted his ashes to be put in a black bin bag and buried in a garden,” he said.

“But we couldn’t let that happen. Following his death there were no prayers, there was no holy water sprinkled over him nor were there any Mass cards.

“This man is symbolic of a hidden suffering and we should never forget our people. We come from a great people who are loyal to one another. They deserve our respect.

“I know that Joe would take solace from the fact that his life story, which was full of pain, may help others on their own and encourage them to seek help.”

Boylan had intended on spreading the elderly man’s ashes in the sea or graveyard somewhere in Ireland prior to making contact with Margaret Brown.

“Thanks to Mrs Brown’s hard work as a volunteer at St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre this man will finally return home and be shown the respect he deserves,” he said.

“It would be wonderful to see as many mourners as possible at his funeral.”

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Sarah Slater

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