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Appeal for mourners to attend elderly Irishman’s funeral

By Sarah Mac Donald - 04 September, 2019

Members of the public who are available have been urged to attend the funeral later this month of an elderly Irishman who passed away alone in a London nursing home without any family or friends.

Eighty-seven-year-old Joseph Tuohy died earlier this summer at a nursing home in Islington, north London and his remains were cremated.

According to a former Columban missionary Brian Boylan, Mr Tuohy had lost contact with his family in Ireland when he was just five years old after he was separated from his mother and sent to a religious-run orphanage.

Born in Toomevara, Co. Tipperary, Joseph Tuohy’s mother was working in New York when she found she was expecting. But the father of her child abandoned her, and she returned to Ireland to have her son.

Life was very difficult for the young unmarried mother in a socially and religiously conservative Ireland of the 1930s.

Brian Boylan told thejournal.ie that Mr Tuohy had told him he had a special bond with his mother which he never forgot.

“She was a loving mother who worked very hard on various farms cooking. She protected him as best she could. 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,” Mr Boylan recalled.

“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 into 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.”

At just five years old Joseph was sent to an orphanage where he spent the next decade before he was put to work as a tailor in St Joseph’s Industrial School in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

Emigrating to London in his late teens, he never returned to Ireland and lost contact with his family.

Brian Boylan, who manages St Gabriel’s Homeless Centre in London, used to visit Mr Tuohy at his nursing home.

He is now appealing, along with Margaret Brown, a volunteer at St Joseph’s Pastoral Centre in London, for people to attend Mr Tuohy’s funeral in Ireland.

He told The Irish Times that the plan is to transport Joseph’s cremated remains over to Ireland for a special service and burial at St Joseph’s Church in Glasthule, Co. Dublin, on 27 September. Anyone who can attend is encouraged to do so.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Boylan said, “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 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. It would be wonderful to see as many mourners as possible at his funeral.”

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, told theJournal.ie that she received an out-of-the-blue letter from Brian Boylan expressing the hope that Joseph could be brought back to Ireland for burial.

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

“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.

“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.”

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