An appeal has been made for mourners for an elderly Irish man who died alone in London and who is to return to his final resting place later this month.
Joseph Tuohy, who was 87, single, and originally from Toomevara , close to Nenagh in Tipperary, passed away during the summer after spending most the majority of his working life in London.
Now an appeal is being made for members of the public, especially anyone with a connection to Tipperary, to attend his funeral Mass so his “last goodbye will not fall on deaf ears”.
The Tipperary man died in a nursing home in Islington, north London, and his remains have been cremated.
Margaret Brown, a volunteer at St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre which raises money for the Friends of the Forgotten Irish Emigrants, 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.
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.
“The letter was sent to me by Brian Boylan who runs the St Gabriel’s Homeless Hostel in London,” said Ms Brown.
Some of our fundraising here helps with its annual costs. There is a commemorative plaque on Carlisle Pier [the East Pier in Dún 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.
"There is also a commemorative plaque dedicated to them at the London Irish Centre in Camden, London which we fundraised for and had shipped over to the UK.”
A funeral Mass is to be celebrated at 10am on September 27 in St Joseph’s Church in Glasthule, Co Dublin. Fr Denis Kennedy will officiate. with Quinn Funeral Home providing undertaker duties. Ronan Murray is the Resident Organ player at St Joseph’s Glasthule and soprano Maria Fitzgerald are to perform at the ceremony.
Mr Tuohy’s ashes will then be brought to Tipperary to laid to rest in consecrated ground.
Brian Boylan, of St Gabriel’s Homeless Centre, was made Mr Tuohy’s next of kin by Islington Council when he passed away, and revealed some details about the late Tipperary man.
“When he was four and a half or five years old he was taken from his unmarried mother and ended up in two different orphanages over an 11-year period,” said Mr Boylan. “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.”
Mr Boylan, said Mr Tuohy could have been “world famous and made a lot money” thanks to 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,” said Mr Boylan.
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,” Mr Boylan explained that Mr Tuohy never sought compensation over alleged child abuse from St Joseph’s Industrial School but did write to them “expressing how some Brothers were kind to him. He never mentioned the others who weren’t”.
Upon leaving the orphanage at 16, years old, Mr Tuohy 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. The other workers didn’t like that and they threatened to go on strike. The situation was eventually calmed.”
But Mr Tuohy left for London, where he stayed 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.”
Mr Boylan visited the man 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,” said Mr Boylan. “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.”
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. It would be wonderful to see as many mourners as possible at his funeral.
Mr Boylan had intended on spreading the elderly man’s ashes in the sea or graveyard somewhere in Ireland prior to making contact with Mrs Brown.