Tributes paid to ‘a true son of Mayo’ after the passing of Martin Joe O’Toole
Martin Joe O’Toole, Kilsallagh Lower, Westport and formerly of Moneen, Louisburgh, who died at Mayo General Hospital on Tuesday, October 1, was one of the West of Ireland’s best-known public representatives for nigh on half a century. He was a former Fianna Fáil County Councillor, Senator and TD.
Martin Joe, as he was popularly known to all, began his political career in 1955 when he was elected to Mayo County Council. He served on the Council without a break for almost 44 years, making him one of the longest-serving local public representatives in the country. During that time he held the office of Chairman on several occasions and, apart from chairing meetings, he represented the Council at home and abroad on numerous prestigious occasions.
He was elected to Seanad Éireann on the Agricultural Panel in 1977 and was a member of the Upper House for 12 years. For much of that time he served as Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Agriculture and later as Spokesperson on the Environment. As a licensed haulier and livestock exporter he was well versed in agricultural matters and never missed an opportunity to raise the profile of Irish farmers and seek terms and conditions that would advance their prosperity and that of the Irish agricultural industry. He was elected to Dail Eireann in 1989 and served there until 1992.
Barrister/Journalist, Jim Farrelly, author of ‘Who’s Who in Irish Politics’ (The Top 500), described Martin Joe as “one of the great West of Ireland politicians who was always capable of delivering blocks of votes in the Seanad and other ’College’ elections”.
He described Martin Joe as “a good Senate performer who has mastered the parliamentary nuts and bolts and who will be an asset to the Dáil, possibly as a Minister if Haughey lasts a few more years”.
Martin Joe was, indeed, an out and out supporter of Charles Haughey, staunchly supporting his brand of Irish Republicanism and always unwavering in his loyalty to the Mayo-born Taoiseach.
While Martin Joe’s interest in the agricultural industry was foremost he was also a staunch advocate for regional development, various forms of job creation, tourism development, housing, health, social welfare and infrastructural development. He was a great champion of Knock Airport and for several years he led the inter-county rail committee campaigning for the reopening of the Western Rail Corridor.
Martin Joe was a revered figure in the Fianna Fáil organisation throughout Mayo. He was very proud of the fact that over a period of several years he had been unanimously elected President of the countrywide organisation of the party.
The appointments he held in his public life are almost too numerous to mention. They included Chairmanship of the Mayo County Committee of Agriculture, Director of CBF, the Irish Livestock and Meat Marketing Board, Member of Mayo Health Service Committee, Officer of Louisburgh Horse Show Society and the Connacht Branch of the Show Jumping Association of Ireland., member of Mayo County Council Fisheries Committee and Director of Louisburgh Holiday Cottages Company. He was also actively involved with various community efforts throughout Mayo over the years, giving unstinting loyalty to the GAA, several voluntary organisations and tourism development bodies. He was very proud of the fact that he was for many years a member of the Mayo County Council Development Team.
Mr Tommie Joe Jennings, Chairman of the Louisburgh Fianna Fáil CC, said Martin Joe had a great reputation for fairness in his dealings with others. “He was a great help to farmers at a time when there were no subsidies and he always believed in giving a fair price for stock bought. Once elections were over he represented his community evenly, irrespective of party politics. He had a magnetism that was second-to-none and people were always drawn to him by his warmth and outgoing personality”.
In a tribute to Martin Joe Deputy Dara Calleary said he was deeply saddened to learn of his death “He was a valued colleague, a close family friend for many years and a much-loved and greatly-respected member of the community in County Mayo. It was a privilege to know Martin Joe. He was a wonderful character and a great source of political wisdom. I wish to extend my deepest sympathy to his sons, daughters, extended family and legion of friends at this difficult time. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam uasal”.
Speaking in the Dáil Deputy Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, said he was sure the Taoiseach would join with him in articulating deepest sympathy to the family of former Deputy Martin Joe O’Toole who was a good colleague of the Taoiseach in Mayo for many years. “He was a member of the Dáil from 1989 to 1992, a very distinguished Senator from 1977 to 1989 and Chairman of Mayo County Council on many occasions. I am aware that we will have an opportunity later to pay tribute to him, but it is important to acknowledge his passing at this time. Mr O’Toole combined colour, conviviality, wisdom and wit during his term in Leinster House. We all enjoyed his company and he was a great raconteur. We wish his family every sympathy. We hope the many happy memories they shared with their father will sustain them in the days and weeks ahead”.
On Thursday evening Deputy Martin travelled to Mayo to visit the O’Toole residence and sympathise with Martin Joe’s family. Also among the sympathisers at the family home on Thursday were Taoiseach Enda Kenny and former Finance Minister and EU Commissioner Ray McSharry. In the Dáil Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was saddened to hear of the passing of Martin Joe at the age of 88.
“I understand he had suffered some minor problems with his health in recent years. In the course of my political career I had many engagements with him on a range of issues. He was a great friend of my late father for many years. He and Breege were constant companions for many years and my thoughts are with their children. I extend my sympathy to Deputy Martin and his party on their loss. Martin Joe was a true son of Mayo, never afraid to articulate his views in the most vociferous fashion and never afraid to stand up for his people. He certainly did the State some service,” said the Taoiseach.
Deputy Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin also extended sympathy to the O’Toole family and the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Barrett said Deputy O’Toole was regarded as a decent and honourable man. “He was a simple man who went about his business in an efficient and friendly manner, irrespective of party politics”.
Among those who called to the Funeral Home on Friday evening to sympathise was Dr Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam.
Martin Joe, who was the last surviving family member of his generation, will be very sadly missed by his sons Padraig, Austie, Martin and Seamus, daughters Marie, Anna, Breda and Gráinne, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, extended family, neighbours and a very wide circle of friends.
The attendance at the Funeral Mass included former Taoiseach Brian Cowen and several sitting and former parliamentarians whom Martin Joe served with over the years, including current MEP Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher.
A Guard of Honour, comprised mainly of Fianna Fáil, the GAA and Louisburgh Horse Show Society flanked the hearse at the removal from Sweeney’s Funeral Home on Friday evening to St Patrick’s Church, Louisburgh. The coffin, which was draped in the Tri-Colour, was carried shoulder high to the church. The main celebrant of the Funeral Mass was Fr Mattie Long, PP, Louisburgh. The concelebrants were Fr Leo Morahan, Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, Fr Anthony King, Fr Seán O’Leary, Fr Paddy Gill and Fr John Fallon.
Gifts brought to the altar which Martin Joe himself had specified, included a copy of the Constitution, a Dáil report, Mayo County Council annual report and the Louisburgh GAA jersey. Family members took part in several aspects of the liturgy. A eulogy was given by Seán Staunton, a family friend. Martin Joe was laid to rest in Kilgeever Cemetery.