Serving Mass on the front to serving pints in Dublin

Family Fortunes: Denis spent the rest of his working life in the bar trade, retiring in 1980 as manager of Gaffney’s in Fairview

Gaffney’s public house in Fairview, Dublin

An extract from Illustrated Pictorial Magazine article, Nov. 1943 reports . . .

“The battle for Italy goes on. Here in this Italian field that yesterday was only stubble bulldozers are hard at work making a new runway for Allied planes.”

But it is a Sunday and late in the afternoon Squadron Leader David Lewis, an Irish Dominican priest and chaplain to an RAF wing, puts vestments over his shirt and shorts to celebrate Mass for the Catholics among the many RAF airmen and operators. The portable altar rests on an ammunition box propped up on petrol tins.”

The “Altar Boy’ for this ceremony was our Da, 28-year-old RAF Cpl. Denis O’Leary, supporting Fr Lewis, who by coincidence, had been a seminarian colleague of his older brother, Fr Edward O’Leary, in Maynooth. A determination to join the RAF had brought Denis to London to join up in early 1939 before war was declared.


On September 10th, 1943 – his 28th birthday – our Da had survived the Allied invasion on the beaches of the Gulf of Salerno after landing from a British warship, despite the first attempts of the invasion being hampered by devastating German fire when the combined Allied troops were separated and tied down for almost 10 days by a German counter attack all along the Salerno beach-head.

Da managed to get a job as a barman a few days before he was due to emigrate

Many of the Allied infantry men worked their way toward the the railway line running parallel to the beaches but there were horrific casualties. A breakthrough to safer ground was finally achieved supported by effective naval bombardment by the Allies.

Obviously our Ma, Sadie, was glad to receive this pictorial evidence that Da was alive and well, although it was many months after the event that the magazine was received by her at home in Drumcondra in Dublin, and she was delighted eventually to welcome him home in time for them to marry during brief leave in October 1944.

Our Da was discharged in 1945 to a Dublin in which employment was scarce but plans for himself and Sadie to emigrate to the UK were gratefully discarded when he managed to get a job as a barman a few days before they were to travel.

Denis spent the rest of his working life in the bar trade, retiring in 1980 as manager in Gaffney’s of Fairview. When growing up this pictorial evidence of our Da’s involvement in WW2 meant a lot to my brother Jer, sister Carmel, late brother Denis and myself.

(The fee for this article has been donated to Brother Kevin’s Homeless support, Church St, Dublin 7)