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‘Father of Westport’ Colam O’Neill laid to rest


GUARD OF HONOUR Both Allergan and Westport Golf Club performed a Guard of Honour as the funeral cortege of Colam O’Neill made its way up Bridge Street in Westport on Saturday afternoon. Pic: Conor McKeown

Former Managing Director of Allergan dies aged 67

Michael Duffy

A ‘father of Westport’ is how Colam O’Neill was described at his funeral Mass in the town last Saturday afternoon. The Dublin native, who oversaw the development of the biggest employer in the town, Allergan Pharmaceuticals, during his period as Managing Director from 1989 to 2005, was laid to rest in Aughavale Cemetery after Mass in St Mary’s Church in Westport.
Colam is mourned by his wife Mary (nee Bourke); sons, Finbar and Conor; daughters, Aoife and Orla; brother, Eoin; sisters, Eithne and Caitriona; nine grandchildren; daughters-in-law Aisling and Gemma, and Emma Joyce; son-in-law, Tom Bourke; wider family and a wide circle of friends. He was predeceased by his son Neill, former Managing Editor of The Mayo News, who died suddenly last October, and his grandson Seán, who died in June 2004.
Colam, formerly of Glenart Avenue, Blackrock, was one of the first members of staff at Allergan Pharmaceuticals in Westport when it set up operations in 1977. He worked as a manager from the outset, taking over from Jim Kiely as Managing Director in 1989. He remained in that role until 2005, when he retired.
Under Mr O’Neill’s leadership, the numbers employed by Allergan at its Westport base more than doubled, and to this day he is credited with turning Allergan into one of the leading companies in the west of Ireland.
Prior to working with Allergan, Mr O’Neill was a manager of Travenol in Castlebar (now Baxter) from 1974 to 77.
A keen golfer, Mr O’Neill was a former Captain and President of Westport Golf Club.

Funeral Mass
Fr Charlie McDonnell presided at Colam’s funeral Mass on Saturday. The church was packed to capacity as people travelled from far and wide to pay their respects.
At the start of the Mass, symbols of Colam’s life were brought to the altar by family and friends. These included a half-Dublin, half-Mayo GAA jersey, a family photo, an Allergan monument, his golf shoes and a copy of The Irish Times.
During his homily, Fr Charlie, a close friend of Colam, spoke of how the half-Dublin, half-Mayo jersey signified something deep about Colam O’Neill.
“He was a fair and decent man, he was good to people, Colam treated everyone the same and fairly. Colam wasn’t very tall and was thin but he was a big man in every other way. He had a massive heart, a small ego and a massive sense of generosity and fun.”
Fr Charlie went on to say that, whether realising it or not, the community of Westport owes Colam a debt of gratitude.
“He was one of the fathers of Westport in many ways, somebody whose presence was integral to where this town finds itself today. He, and a tight group of people, made Allergan what it is today, and I know that can be some consolation to his family, that they have lost a very important person, but all too soon.
“He bore his illness with tremendous dignity but we pray that the legacy he has left will stand his family and the community in good stead.”

Martin Gillen, a colleague and friend of Colam’s for over 30 years, delivered a eulogy on behalf of Allergan and Westport Golf Club.
“This man, whether it be in a boardroom in California, fighting for the best for Westport, or in his office, listening to someone’s personal story, had a breadth of talent and human understanding that was extraordinary. In his role as a leader in Allergan, his commitment was wholehearted, both for the success of the company and the local community.
“One of his many notable achievements was in 1991, when he convinced a boardroom full of Allergan executives to invest $100 million in the Westport site. They fully backed Colam’s proposal, such was the ability of the man.”
Mr Gillen added that Colam will be remembered for his sharp wit and intellect, his kindness and understanding and his ability to engage with people.
“Colam had a quote for every occasion, in Irish or in English, from the immense store of language in his head. If he were here, I can imagine him trying to lighten the mood by saying, ‘Gillen, you’d still be running around Donegal barefoot, if I hadn’t given you a job’. Well Colam, thank God I got that job, and I am grateful to have been given the chance to know such a loyal and gifted friend … until we meet again, Slán.”
Colam’s oldest son, Conor, delivered a eulogy on behalf of the O’Neill family, and paid special tribute to all the the staff of the Oncology Department of Mayo University Hospital for all the treatment delivered to Colam during his illness over the last few months.
He told the congregation that his father was born in July, 1950, the youngest of four children, to Cathy and Seamus O’Neill on Glenart Avenue in Blackrock.
Although most of the O’Neill family were involved in education, Colam went for a career in industry, and took a position in Travenol (now Baxter) in Castlebar, where he met his wife Mary. Colam and Mary moved to Westport in 1977 after he took a position in Allergan, which was setting up in the town at the time and he rose to the rank of Managing Director in 1989.
“Dad loved Allergan, but he loved the people of Allergan more. It’s pretty obvious through conversations we had with people over the last few days and weeks, how much he meant to those people. It is hard to put into words how much Allergan meant to Dad, but last week after he woke in ICU after a procedure, the first question he asked me was, ‘What is the Allergan share price?’.”
Conor went on to say that outside of work and family, Colam loved sport, and in particular, golf. He was honoured to be the Captain of Westport Golf Club in 1990 and President from 2001 to 2003. Conor finished his eulogy by referring to the tragedies that have rocked the O’Neill family, with the passing of Colam’s grandson Seán in 2004, and most recently, the sudden death of Neill, Colam and Mary’s son, who died last October, aged just 36.
“We are a tight group, but that tight family unit has been rocked on a couple of occasions, first with the death of our nephew Seán. Although he was only with us for a short time, he brought great joy to all our lives.
“And more recently, we had the death of my brother Neill, who passed away last October. Neill was known as the spokesperson of the family, and he would most likely be here speaking instead of me today if he was alive. Neill’s passing left a huge void in our lives, and now that void is wider with Dad’s passing. But the support we have got from the entire community, and the strength within our own tight little group, means I am confident we can pick up the pieces and move on for the next number of months and years.
“We have had so many people say good things about Dad, but the one thing that sticks out for me is that we should be proud of him, and we truly are. We are proud of what you did for us, but also of what you did for the town. We love you and miss you forever. So rest easy Dad, and give Neill and Seán a kiss for us in heaven. Go raibh míle maith agat, and mind yourself.”
Colam O’Neill’s remains were carried from St Mary’s Church to the strains of ‘Dublin in the rare in oul times’, by The Dubliners.
May he rest in peace.

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