There was a time when Pascal Whelan’s car got stuck in the sand halfway across the drive to Omey Island from the mainland. Another local drove to his aid and his car was also embedded, only to finally pull clear after burning out the clutch.
Pascal’s car remained there, to be swamped by the waves. It was fished out later, but he never drove it again. According to Pascal: “That is the price you pay for living in paradise.”
Malachy King of Sweeney’s Strand Bar in Cleggan, recalls this tale and many others involving the Hollywood stuntman who went from big budget pictures back to his roots on the tidal island off Co Galway. For years he has been its sole resident. It’s now said his death last Sunday, on his 75th birthday, means it is the first time in 500 years that no one is permanently living on the island.
Pascal’s mother came from the island and he played there as a child, although his life took him around the world. He became a stuntman through a friend while living in Australia, and went on to gather credits in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Live and Let Die and Crocodile Dundee.
According to Malachy, the death of another stuntman in an accident put a stop to his own career. He went back to Omey permanently more than 30 years ago, and so began an almost daily ritual whereby he awoke in his mobile home and drove across the sands during the tidal window to get his messages and to grab a pint.
His sister lived in Galway and a brother in Clifden, but it was only Omey for Pascal. He told Malachy he was never lonely. Locals helped him with water supply, but any electricity came off a car battery. He was into fishing and diving. Aged 60, he told Malachy, “I’m living on borrowed time.” He was diagnosed with prostate cancer three years later. Tears flowed, but he beat it. Later he had a kidney removed. He lived on, the man of Omey. He may have had memorabilia from his stuntman days but it seems he didn’t overdo it with the anecdotes.
Instead, he did odd jobs and a bit of plastering and stayed in contact with his family. It was Malachy who noticed he hadn’t come across last Sunday, and Malachy who rang Pascal’s mobile phone. “I made a call to him and it rang out,” he said. “Normally he’d answer on the third or fourth ring. I left it 15, 20 minutes and tried again.” No answer. “I got my car and went into him. He had told me where his key was. I saw the dog inside and I thought: this is it.” It was indeed.
[timgcap=Mourners at the funeral of Omey Island’s last permanent resident. Picture: Eamon Ward]PascalWhelanFuneralOmeyIslandB_large.jpg[/timg]
Pascal — stuntman, father, friend, islander — was laid to rest yesterday. Almost every day he’d be in the Strand Bar, supping a pint or taking a brandy before the journey back, the Prince of Tides. The stool is now empty.
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