Omey Island’s last resident crosses strand at low tide one final time

Funeral of stunt actor Pascal Whelan told he relished adventures and lived life on edge

The remains of Pascal Whelan (75) have been brought to Omey Island, Connemara for burial. The former film stuntman was the last permanent resident of Omey having lived there for 30 years. Video: Bryan O’Brien

 

Stunt actor Pascal Whelan was a man of many breathtaking moments, and no more than after his burial on Connemara’s Omey island.

A filling tide was already streaming across the one kilometre strand between graveyard and mainland on Wednesday as mourners bid farewell to the outcrop’s last permanent resident.

Claddaghduff parish priest Fr Sean Smith knew it would be cutting it fine, as he officiated at the funeral mass. With high water at 14.40 hours, the service and transit to the island would have to be completed safely before lunch.

The church was packed pew to pew, with fresh daffodils on Mr Whelan’s coffin, as Fr Smith welcomed Mr Whelan’s sister Hilary and brother Leo to the community.

Their brother had made his name in films such as Crocodile Dundee , Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Live and Let Die before retiring to the island some 35 years ago.

Whelan, who was found dead on his 75th birthday in his mobile home, had inspired a book, a photographic exhibition and a radio documentary about his career and latter life. Omey races chairman and Office of Public Works (OPW) warden Feichin Mulkerrin had spoken earlier in the week about how much he would be missed.

One of four children born on Omey, Whelan left the island with his parents for Wales at the age of six. He was 19 years old when he emigrated to Australia and initially worked as a plasterer.

It was while employed on a film set that he accidentally fell into a new career. A stuntman refused to perform a fall, and he stepped in.

“Pascal dropped his tools, did the job and never looked back,” Ciara Glasscott said in her tribute to her “honorary grandfather”. This led to an “illustrious career” on film and stage, she said.

Ms Glasscott, the last baby born on the tidal island, recalled how the stuntman had held her shortly after her delivery and how they were always close. She had learned how his own first trip across the tidal strand was in the arms of his three-and-a-half year old sister.

Whelan always had an “open door and a glass of wine” for visitors, and spent his time fishing, diving and participating in many search and rescues in and around Omey, she recalled.

He had a “sharp wit”, a stubbornness, and a passion for the sea, for film, for nature and for politics, she noted. Conversations in Sweeney’s bar in Claddaghduff were a vital part of his life, and he made “such an impression on everyone he met”, she said.

He would speak of how he relished adventures, of which death was just one, and he “lived life on the edge”. He had died as he wanted to, on Omey, and had “always wanted to play the long odds” and “won”, she said.

Offertory gifts included a copy of the out of print photographic biography of Whelan by Kevin Griffin, entitled Last Man Standing, and a CD recording of music written for him by Terry Minogue. A map of Omey, a model boat and a set of essential tide tables were also selected as symbols of his life, Fr Smith said.

Whelan’s children Patrick, Sean and Shannon who are living in North America and Australia, were remembered at the service, as was his other surviving sibling, Maura, who lives in Britain. To the strains of Paul Brady’s The Island , the coffin was taken from the church for his last trip to Omey, where the hearse paused at his mobile home.

As mourners moved out of the chapel for that final crossing, they passed a notice pinned to the board “Time and tide waits for no man – but Pascal tried”.