Matt Nolan writes a fine obituary for a pioneer of Ireland’s inland fisheries… 

Denis O’Driscoll who died aged 76 was an inspirational figure in the world of Irish angling. He was involved in the late 1960s in pioneering survey work on Irish trout rivers. Later still he made a number of breakthroughs in developing facilities for special needs anglers and in networking with Bord na Mona in setting up new lakes at Boora Parklands. In his retirement years he worked both locally and nationally in the commemoration of the Irish Famine of 1845/49

He was born in the hill country a few miles north of Macroom in West Cork. It was there he honed his football skills playing for the local club and where he got his first taste of trout angling. It was there too that he nurtured his droll sense of humour and his Cork accent that was to stay with him throughout his life.

Denis O'Driscoll
Denis O’Driscoll, photo courtesy Matt Nolan

Having completed his education in De La Salle College, Macroom, he joined the Inland Fisheries Trust and was assigned to the Electrical and Technical Survey Unit. It was an adventure that was to take him to every corner of Ireland doing pioneering work on the quality of Irish trout rivers under the direction of the renowned fisheries biologist Noel Hackett.

It was while he was working in Corofin, Co Clare that he met the catch of his life, when he was introduced to Claire Egan, a local girl who was to become his wife of just over 50 years.

In 1970 Denis was appointed as Fisheries Superintendent in charge of The River Brosna and Little Brosna Catchments and sometime after that he and Claire got married and moved to Kilcormc in County Offaly. Over the following years Denis and Claire and their new family became ingrained in the local and South Offaly community.

In his work, Denis threw himself wholeheartedly into developing angling throughout Co Offaly and The North Tipperary regions. He sought not to over-cater for the needs of the expert angler, but he concentrated instead on visiting tourists as well as the those with special needs and the occasional anglers who often put their trust in the stars and not in their skill or tackle and who were usually blessed with the gift of telling stories.

He loved more than anything to stroll through meadowlands along the Little Brosna at Sharavogue on Summer evenings during May where he could meet the locals who would tell him stories about anglers who fished there fadó, fadó.

If he was lucky, he would meet “Mike Frank” who only fished at weekends and then usually from bridges. Mike Frank always wore his wellingtons a little turned down and he for ever seemed to have a half-smoked cigarette behind his right ear. His tackle was basic, but he invariably had his own reasons for not catching fish such as the effects overhead power lines and airplanes were having on trout stocks.

In 1987 Denis was elected as staff representative on The Central Fisheries Board where he was involved with the implementation of a new staff scheme for all fisheries staff. He made a difference.

It was in the early 90s that Bord na Mona first started looking at ways of diversifying and dealing with cut away bogs in the Midlands. Denis became involved with Tom Egan and other Bord na Mona staff in creating new fishing lakes on cut-away bogland. It was the first of a number of pilot projects at Boora near Cloghan in Co Offaly. The area is now one of the main tourist destinations in the county.

In 1994 he was the main driving force behind the design and development Ireland’s first special needs angling lake at Loch an Dochais also in Co Offaly and which Uachtarán na hÉireann, Mary Robinson came to open. It too has seen much success over the years.

In 2002 he took early retirement which only seemed to catapult him into the middle of another of his great passions, The Irish Famine or An Gorta Mór as he preferred to call it.

Locally he organized famine walks and memorials to famine victims. Nationally, he lobbied politicians and others to have a National Famine Commemoration Day and eventually The Government conceded and due to the work of Denis and others, we now have a National Famine Committee, who each year have the responsibility of organizing an Annual Commemoration of The Irish Famine, both here in Ireland and overseas.

In his off time he loved gardening in his vegetable garden and writing poetry. His poetry related to everyday happening in the Irish Midlands and he had two of his volumes published.

Denis never forgot his West Cork roots and always had great regard for Irish customs and traditions. He attended most local funerals in the time-honoured traditional way. Yet in a strange twist of fate his friends were restricted in the way they could attend his funeral. However, it seemed as if the entire local community, as well as colleagues and friends from around Ireland lined the streets of Kilcormac, in a downpour of rain, to say a final farewell to their friend for one last time. The funeral cortege with his coffin draped in the Cork colours made its way slowly from the funeral home in Mucklagh, through the narrow streets of the town to The Church of The Nativity in the centre of Kilcormac village.

Fr Joseph Gallagher PP Tullamore celebrated the funeral Mass and recited the graveside prayers. He spoke of the Denis he knew, who had a passion for helping others and for remembering the horror that was the Irish famine but he said that more than anything else, he was a family man who loved his wife and children.

Following the funeral Mass the cortage made its way to St Josephs cemetery, stopping on the way outside his home in St Cormacs Park.

Following the graveside prayers Michael Blanch founding chairman of the Committee of the Irish Famine Victims gave the graveside oration and said that “without Denis O’Driscoll there would be no National Commemoration Day either in Ireland or overseas.” It was a fitting tribute for the Kilcormac man.

Then as the rain swept in from the Sliabh Blooms, Mary Cuddy sang that great Cork famine anthem “Skibbereen”. It was a request that Denis himself had made.

It was all a nice testimonial tribute to the man who was a kingpin in his local community.

He is survived by his wife Claire, daughter Mary and sons Proinsias, Donnacha,Eoin and Críostóir.