Former Fine Gael minister Tom O’Donnell dies aged 94

Former minister for the Gaeltacht served as MEP from 1979 to 1989

Former Fine Gael Minister and MEP Tom O'Donnell has died aged 94.

Mr O'Donnell died suddenly and peacefully on Thursday at his residence at Ballysheedy West, Co Limerick.

In a long political career, he was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1961 and later appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht following the 1973 general election by taoiseach Liam Cosgrave.

In 1979 he was elected to the European Parliament and retained his seat in 1984. He retired from politics, undefeated, in 1989.


In tribute, former taoiseach John Bruton described Mr O'Donnell as a man of great warmth and conviction.

“He retained a youthful enthusiasm for all the causes in which he was involved, right up to end of his life. He never wavered,” Mr Bruton said.

“He inspired great affection among the people of the Gaeltacht and brought unprecedented attention,at the highest level, to them and their needs. He acquired a mastery of the language and conducted all the official business of his Department in Irish.”

Mr O'Donnell was born into a high-profile political family, the eldest of eight children of Patrick and Josephine O'Donnell and a native of Bulgaden, Kilmallock and later Cappamore and Dromin.

Educated at the Convent of Mercy and Boys National School in Cappamore and later at Crescent College Limerick, CBS Charleville and Copsewood College, Pallaskenry, he would go on to study at St Patrick's College, Thurles and University College Dublin.

He taught at St Fintan's, Sutton and North Strand Vocational School before returning to Limerick to pursue his political career.

Following his retirement, he maintained several prominent, voluntary roles including as chairman and president of the Irish Peace Institute at the University of Limerick, and on the boards of the Limerick Enterprise Network and the Limerick Community Based Education Initiative, among others.

In 2001 he was honoured by Limerick County Council and in 2005 by Limerick City Council with civic receptions and special presentations to mark the completion of half a century of political and voluntary service to the people of the county.

Mr O'Donnell is survived by his wife Helen, son Thomas, brothers Frank, PJ and sisters Bernadette Boner and Millie Boyle, nephews and nieces. He was predeceased by his sister Alicia and brothers Mark and Martin.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times