Warm tales of Swinford in bygone days spring from pages of compelling memoir

TIME well spent leads to a life well lived. That adage sprang to my mind after reading Swinford native Pat O’Connor’s just published autobiography, The Life and Times of a Country Solicitor. For there is so much more to the author’s life than running a highly successful legal practice.

As well as being a coroner, he has had a lifelong involvement in Irish rugby. His contribution to charitable, community and governance initiatives (such as Hope House and the Cheshire Home, Bohola) is truly remarkable.

Such was the depth of Pat’s involvement in local politics - as well as his many other extra-curricular activities - over the decades that there must have been few nights when he was able to stay home.

The pinnacle of his political role, he writes, as Fine Gael Director of Elections at national, local and European levels, was undoubtedly the 2011 general election when Enda Kenny became Taoiseach and three other FG candidates were elected to represent what was then the constituency of Mayo.

Retracing the footsteps of his father Thomas (Val), Pat served for a term as President of the Law Society and succeeded his dad as principal of the family law firm, P. O’Connor & Son. Under his guidance the firm is firmly ensconced in the upper tier of Irish law practices, well positioned to meet whatever challenges and changes the future brings.

As he enters the final years of his sixth decade, Pat has looked deeply into the rear-view mirror of his life and applied fingers to laptop to produce what is truly a compelling memoir.

In his opening chapter, entitled 'Childhood', he recalls that by all accounts his entry into the world on the morning of October 22, 1952, was a joyous event for his parents, especially his father, Val, who was hoping for a son and heir to carry on the family law practice.

"My birth secured the dynasty and Dad immediately earmarked his own father’s antique American writing desk for the future lawyer," he recalls.

In his teenage years young Pat did briefly consider a career as an airline pilot but was talked out of it by his (horrified) father who persuaded him to complete his law studies first.

The Life and Times of a Country Solicitor is not just a personal and family history but also beams a welcome ray of light into small-town Irish life in the 1950s and '60s when the author was growing up.

Young Pat, of course, came from a family that was regarded locally as 'well to do' and there were some concerns (especially from a particularly assertive paternal aunt) about him 'mixing with commoners' when it came to playmates.

Master Pat blithely overrode the objections, associating freely with the boys and girls of the town and playing soccer with them and hide and seek in a local graveyard.

Pat’s boyhood pals tried rugby - a game totally alien to them up to then - after an uncle, John Willie O’Connor, a Circuit Court judge and former barrister, gifted him a size 4 Gillbert leather rugby ball.

John Willie’s present sowed the seeds for his nephew of what has been a lifelong interest in rugby.

Local personalities of bygone years abound in the pages of the hardback, beautifully presented memoir.

No anecdote lights up the pages more than the tale of businessman George McDermott and his son Georgie (both deceased).

McDermott’s of Market Street was one of 52 licensed premises in Swinford in the mid-20th century.

One anecdote related in the O’Connor memoir concerned George (Snr) dispatching a miraculous medal to Britain’s King George VI as German bombs rained down during World War Two and him receiving a warm overcoat back from the King as a gesture of appreciation.

Amongst a raft of other town characters in the 1950s and '60s, Pat fondly recalls Frank Egan, the then local correspondent for The Connaught Telegraph.

Frank, Pat recalls, had a habit of defusing the situation whenever anyone raised a difficult matter by repeating: "It’s a tricky business, a tricky business."

While the family business, P. O’Connor & Son, which employs about 20 people at different levels, continues to thrive, its principal (P. O’C) has no intention of retiring just yet.

However, he intends taking more time out to travel with his wife, Gillian.

Another matter on his bucket list - he’d love to catch his first salmon.

With the bounteous River Moy on his doorstep, and more time on his hands, that ambition should be easily achievable.

• The Life and Times of a Country Solicitor, priced €20, is available from the publisher, Old House Press, Swinford, Co. Mayo. (Telephone 094-9251333)