Councillor and campaigner whose compassion was forged by his tough early years

Seamus O’Boyle: July 25th, 1957 - August 11th, 2015

 

Seamie O’Boyle, who has died aged 58, has been described as an ordinary man who touched the lives of many people in his home town of Sligo.

Raised in the local Nazareth House orphanage, he was, according to close friends, devoted to his own family, his “Nazareth family” and the close-knit community of Forthill, where he lived .

His beloved Sligo Rovers wore black armbands as a mark of respect on their first outing after his death. Two bishops were among the celebrants at his funeral Mass. Many Sligo pubs closed their doors as the people of Sligo stood to attention when the cortege passed through streets throbbing with the revelry of the All-Ireland fleadh.

Working class hero

Having spent just over a year as a member of Sligo County Council before his sudden death, his party, People Before Profit, described him as “a working class hero” who had it hard growing up but whose life was testament to everything good in the human spirit. The party had recently sounded out the Sligo man about running in the general election.

Known to everyone in Sligo as Seamie, his lifelong friend the retired bishop of Elphin Christy Jones said he had a passion for justice and an eagerness to help anyone who asked.

Seamie O’Boyle was politically engaged all his life, highlighting such diverse issues as home help cutbacks, local cancer services, homelessness, water charges and the plight of children in Gaza.

Many have speculated that his difficult early years informed his politics. “He came from nothing and left a legacy,” said Gino, the oldest of his four children. A man of few words who was huge in stature, the term “gentle giant” was widely applied. He played with Rovers’ reserve side, but as a teenager was more famous as a supporter, being seen as the leader of the “Sligo bootboys” who supported the “Red Army” in the 1970s. Always passionate in his support, he ended his victory speech at the election count in 2014 saying “Can I just say add more thing? Up the Rovers!”

In the days between his death and his funeral Rovers reversed a long run of bad form to convingingly beat Drogheda away from home, prompting Canon Tom Hever, a former classmate in St John’s NS, to joke at the funeral ceremony that his influence in heaven was already being felt.

Protective

Pádraic Morgan, who grew up in Nazareth House in the 1960s, remembers Seamie as someone who always looked out for the smaller boys when they were bullied. “He never let anyone push us around – that was to be his way for his whole life.”

Morgan remembers how the “Nazareth boys” walked together to St John’s school, where they were made sit at the back of the class. It was an era when some former Nazareth boys had nowhere to live when they left the orphanage and depended on the kindly women in Best’s café for a warm meal.

He believes that Seamie’s gift for friendship and his good fortune to meet Mairead, “the rock” in his life, set him on the road to being a leader in his community.

“He had a massive empathy for people,” said Brian O’Boyle, his director of elections in 2014. “He had a great sense of humour and was a very calming influence. He had a knack for bringing people around. There was never any hostility with Seamie. Maybe we could all learn from him.”

He is survived by his widow, Mairead, and his four children, Gino, Seamie, Kathy and Jane.