The death of Paul O'Dwyer on June 24th, 1998, at his home in Goshen, New York, USA is a great sadness for his wife, Pat, sons Brian, Rory, William and his daughter Eileen, and for all of those who had the great pleasure and honour of meeting him or who were touched by his great generosity, spirit, will and direction.
Paul was the former President of the New York City Council, a prominent democrat, New York Commissioner to the United Nations, a humanitarian, civil rights activist, lawyer, advocate for many causes; but above all a great friend.
Born in 1907, the youngest of 11 children of local school teacher Patrick O'Dwyer (from Co Cork) and Bridget McNicholas (from Co Mayo), he wrote: "My birth was not regarded as a blessing in my family. I was the eleventh and last O'Dwyer in an already overcrowded five-roomed house, and while I know my deeply religious mother proclaimed me to be a gift from heaven, I doubt that the other members of the family subscribed to her view".
In April 1925, Paul O'Dwyer arrived in New York with $25 in his pocket, "a single suit of clothes on my back and a straight razor". He stated he "barely noticed the Statue of Liberty and nobody told us much about it but the harbour looked magnificent".
While he never looked back in his very full and magnificent life, he never forgot Ireland, her people and the social and political difficulties this country encountered through the years. A true American with an open spirit, he was the leader of the Irish-American subculture that had developed in New York. In his autobiography, Counsel for the Defence, he gives a glimpse of the political and social ideas that shaped his highly intelligent and well thought out views on Ireland. He wrote "here and there in Bohola you could see the ruins of abandoned dwellings - mute evidence that hunger and the battering ram, the landlords' dreaded demolition machine, had overcome their occupants during famine and eviction.
He did not support the Anglo-Irish Agreement but did support the recent Good Friday Agreement. It was undoubtedly a great comfort and consolation to him to have lived long enough to see the new Ireland, that he had dreamed of and worked for, coming to fruition.
Paul and his family were frequent visitors to Ireland. Determined to ensure that his old family home in Bohola, Co Mayo, was made use of for some charitable purpose, he set about with great determination, drive and ambition to get around the considerable obstacles placed in his way by bureaucracy, to establish the O'Dwyer Cheshire Home at Lismirrane. This home caters for 30 physically disabled persons and provides employment for 16 staff. It combined Paul's twin goals of providing a home for those who are handicapped and marginalised in Irish society and employment in his own locality.
The O'Dwyer Forestry Foundation was established as a charitable organisation in this country also. This Foundation has planted 650 acres of trees throughout the five counties of Connaught. At Paul's direction, the Foundation is to become an all Ireland 32county entity. In 1974 he was elected Mayo Man of the Year and also cut the first sod for the development of the O'Dwyer Cheshire Home. He and those who worked with him in New York raised most of the capital required to build the Cheshire Home. Paul said at the sod-cutting ceremony: "I am happy that I can do something for people who have not been too fortunate in life. I had thought of selling the place to one of my neighbours. They all wanted it. The trouble was that they are all either relatives or friends of mine, and if I sold it I would have one doubtful friend and sixteen enemies".
Paul was a kind, caring and warm person. He appreciated the individuality of people and passionately believed in the rights of the individual. He did not coerce people he simply set out to persuade and encourage them.
The celebration of his 90th birthday at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York in May 1997 was a memorable and deserved celebration of his great life. He had been unwell for some years, but though his body was frail, his mind and spirit was strong, clear and thrilling.
Those who had the pleasure of meeting Paul, in whatever circumstances, were always touched by his great warmth, friendship, hospitality, understanding and caring. He was a great man who lived a long life and achieved much for the causes that he passionately believed in. An Irishman who became an American but who never lost his love of Ireland is no longer physically with us but his spirit and soul will continue to eternity to touch the present and future generations in this country and America.
Truly, we can say of Paul O'Dwyer that "we will never see the likes of him again". Slan a chara. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam dilis.