Michael O’Donohoe, ‘The Master’

The month of September recalls the birth of the late Michael O’Donohoe, creator of this collection,  who would have this year – on the 26th of the month – celebrated his 80th birthday.1


Depiction of Michael O’Donohoe by John Reidy, composed in 2014


Michael was born in Tralee in 1936, the eldest of three children of Matthias O’Donohoe (1898-1995) and his wife Catherine Cronin (1909-1978).2


Clare native Matthias, a Garda who had been stationed in Kerry, spelt the family name Donohoe. Michael gave the following explanation:


My father came from Ballyvaughan  – right in the middle of the Burren. He spelt his name Donohoe. Perhaps a parish clerk or parish priest wrote it that way and he was slow to argue with authority. Other branches of the family spell it Donoghue.3


Ballyvaughan from the Lawrence Collection


Michael was enrolled in Castleisland Boys’ National School in 1945, his address 11 Barrack Street, Castleisland.4  In 1948, he went on to the Good Counsel College, New Ross, Co Wexford, completing his Leaving Certificate examinations in 1954.5  Michael was subsequently a student of St Patrick’s Training College, Drumcondra where he played for Erin’s Hope, the college team.


Following his graduation from St Patrick’s, Michael took up the post of National School Teacher in Castleisland at the school where he had received his own primary education.  He participated in local sports, playing for Castleisland Desmonds and the Kerry football team.  His other activities included billiards, bridge and snooker.


Michael in his youth when he participated in local sports


In 1988, Michael was appointed principal of Castleisland Boys’ National School, retiring in 1991 after 35 years in the teaching profession.  Still a young man in his fifties, Michael devoted his time to local history research.


Michael made regular visits to Tralee library where he carried out his detailed studies.  Librarian Eamon Brown recalled the depth of Michael’s industry as the two slowly made acquaintance.


Documents in the collection reveal that Michael, working on the threshold of the technological revolution, spent much time corresponding by letter and fax not only in search of information but also to share it.  His correspondents included the late Valerie Bary, who expressed regret at not making acquaintance with Michael during research of her monumental Houses of Kerry.6  


Michael’s sister Breda pictured with John Reidy at her home in Castleisland in 2015 when she contributed biographical material to the collection


Another correspondent extended thanks to Michael for ‘taking the trouble to meet me at the library before Christmas and for giving me the material’. The writer urged Michael to publish his research.7


An account of Michael’s life and the history of the Michael O’Donohoe Memorial Heritage Project was portrayed in a short film, The Master’s Legacy produced by John and Michael Reidy in 2015.8  The film included the memories of Michael’s sister, Breda Brooks, and acknowledged her invaluable role in the preservation of her brother’s papers.


Michael, who never married, died at the Riverside Nursing Home, Abbeydorney on 26 June 2008 aged 71.  He was laid to rest with his parents in Kilbannivane burial ground, Castleisland.


Family and friends remember Michael O’Donohoe at Kilbannivane cemetery on 26 September 2016, the 80th anniversary of his birth


1 Michael's surname is given as 'O'Donoghue' on a memorial card held in the collection (IE MOD/81).
2 Siblings are Matthew and Breda.  Material in the collection reveals that Michael's grandfather, also Michael O'Donohoe, was of Aghaglinny South, Gleninagh, Co Clare. His grandmother was Bridget, whose maiden name 'was a variation of Connole, Connollan, Connollen' (IE MOD/53).  An image of Michael in childhood and others of family scenes were donated to the collection by Breda Brooks on 24 July 2015.
3 IE MOD/58/58.21.
4 Michael's schooling before this may have been in Farranfore, where his father, a Garda, had been stationed.  Some time after the death of his father in 1995, Michael changed his address to 25 Main Street, Castleisland.
5 Special thanks to Aidan O'Brien, principal of Good Counsel College, for confirming attendance dates and other material including an image of the Good Counsel team who defeated St Finians, Mullingar in the Leinster Colleges' Junior Football Championship final at Carlow in 1951.
6 IE MOD/38.
7 IE MOD/60/60.3.
8 The film can be viewed on the home page of this site.