Mourners at his funeral Mass in Cork applauded Fr Pat O’Mahony after his homily focused on Mr O’Callaghan’s personal legacy, rather than his business achievements which saw him ranked as one of the country’s top developers of the last four decades.
“While he was a very big and well-known national, international and public figure, he was also a private man,” Fr O’Mahony told the mourners who gathered at St Patrick’s Church in Rochestown, the church on the southside of Cork city where Mr O’Callaghan attended Mass on Christmas Day with his wife, Shelagh.
“He was a good living, honest and caring and loving man. He was blessed with a great life, a life he shared with Shelagh, they shared it together and built it up together, and with family and friends, it was a very full life above all, lived in its fullest sense.
“We will never forget Owen’s generosity, we will never forget his warmth, his wisdom, his shrewdness, his determination, and above all, that glint in his eye and his all-embracing and inclusive charm for all those that he met.
“He was a true gent in the true sense of the word, a gentleman, impeccably dressed and turned out by Shelagh.”
Fr O’Mahony recalled greeting Mr O’Callaghan at the back of the church after Mass and asking him how he was.
He told mourners that Mr O’Callaghan replied he was grand but that his chest was “giving him a bit of trouble”.
“And from there on it was downhill, but really, when you think about it, it was his determination to be at Mass, to come quietly, to come and pray,” Fr O’Mahony said.
Mr O’Callaghan died in Cork University Hospital on Monday after a short illness arising from complications due to pneumonia. He was 76.
His firm O’Callaghan Properties, built thousands of homes, offices and retail developments in Cork, Dublin and Limerick over the last 48 years.
Among his flagship retail projects were Merchant’s Quay, Paul St, Mahon Point and Opera Lane retail developments in Cork, and Liffey Valley in Dublin.
He also featured in the Mahon Tribunal but rejected its findings of illegal payments to politicians via the lobbyist Frank Dunlop. His Supreme Court appeal against the tribunal findings is still pending.
Hundreds of mourners led by his widow, Shelagh, his children Brian and Zelda, as well as his brother Jack and sister Gene, gathered at St Patrick’s Church yesterday to bid farewell.
Fr O’Mahony said there was no doubt that his legacy will be remembered in the buildings he built, and that it will be written about for years to come. But he said the focus of the Requiem Mass was to give him a Christian burial and to support his family.
Referring to the prophet Micah, who urged the people of Israel to walk humbly with God, Fr O’Mahony said: “I can truthfully say that Owen was a man who walked justly, he loved tenderly and he walked very humbly.
“He was a man of huge integrity, a man of his word, a family man, and while newspapers were saying we’ve lost a national treasure, and Cork city has lost a champion, it’s his family that have lost the treasure that he was. And what a treasure. What a giant.
“He was a big man with a huge heart, and he was a wonderful, wonderful Christian.”
He also said Mr O’Callaghan gave to and nurtured many charitable organisations in the city, but did so discreetly and quietly.
The Mass was concelebrated by O’Callaghan family friends, Fr Michael Keohane and Fr Tony O’Keeffe, by Fr Brian Shorthall, Fr James O’Donoghue, and Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Paul Colton. Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr John Buckley, who is in Rome with the Irish bishops, sent his apologies.
Among the congregation were Lord Mayor Des Cahill; the chief executive of Cork City Council Ann Doherty; director of services in the planning directorate Pat Ledwidge; Cork Chamber president Barrie O’Connelland chamber chief executive Conor Healy; Irish Examiner CEO Tom Murphy and Irish Examiner chairman Tom Crosbie; Cork Business Association chief executive Lawrence Owens, and its president, Pat O’Connell; developers Michael O’Flynn, Theo Cullinane, and Tom Coughlan; Cork Airport managing director, Niall MacCarthy; former Cork City manager, Joe Gavin; Fianna Fáil finance spokesman, Michael McGrath; former lobbyist Frank Dunlop; Richard Martin of RDJ Solicitors; businessman Noel C Duggan; elderly rights campaigner, Paddy O’Brien; Crawford Gallery director, Peter Murray; and former rugby great, Tom Kiernan.
Mr O’Callaghan, who was predeceased by his daughter Hazel, who died in 2002 after an accident while loading a horse box, was buried afterwards at St Mary and St John Churchyard Cemetery in Ballincollig, Co Cork, where he was raised.