5 Cloghan Hill, Ardmore and late of The Octagon, Westport
The death of Pat Dunning on November 21st last was met with both immense sadness and disbelief in his beloved Westport. Pat had many health set backs throughout his life but, a bit like the cat with the nine lives, he always seemed to bounce back bigger and better than before. How often had we heard over the years that Pat ‘will do well to get through this’? Yet, he always did ‘get through’ and the next thing you’d see him on the Octagon outside his business and everything was ok again.
It was different in November though and Pat knew it. A cancer diagnosis eleven days before his death would have rattled most people but Pat was prepared, even finding time in his final journey home to Westport to text Fr Charlie and Tom Treacy (pharmacist) “Coming home, my goose is cooked, talk later.” Maybe such preparedness comes from having spent so many years having to deal with so much serious health issues. When he was given his diagnosis in Beaumont hospital he faced it head on with his tremendous courage. He asked for no tears or sadness and he comforted his family. He explained that he got what he wanted from life. He was given the chance to rear his children and see them safely to adulthood. He died surrounded by his beloved family and he died in Westport. That was all he wanted.
Pat Dunning was born in August of 1957, the youngest of four children to Paddy and Aileen Dunning. His early education was spent with the Christian Brothers in Westport and later he followed his older brothers to St Jarlath’s College in Tuam. He grew up with a tremendous love for his hometown and in particular the Quay, where he spent as much time as he could with his aunts, Mary, Helen and Kathleen Dunning.
He even managed to spend a week in the Quay School as a very young boy and he loved to tell that story to emphasise his link with the part of Westport that he particularly loved. Last August the wheel came full circle when his beloved grandson, David, started his school life at St Colmcille’s and there was no prouder grandfather than Pat Dunning standing outside the school gates that day. How fitting it was that young David was starting out in life just a matter of yards away from where his grandfather spent some of the happiest days of his life.
As a very young boy if Pat wasn’t travelling around Mayo with his father Paddy buying wool he would be found travelling with M J Hoban, also of the Octagon, selling groceries. Such experiences helped inculcate his tremendous knowledge of Westport and its surrounds. He knew where everyone lived and all the different relations and connections in every family. Pat was the classic font of information and knowledge and if anyone ever needed any information he was the go to man.
Pat loved sport of all kinds and played soccer, gaelic and rugby for Westport. He played for St Jarlath’s and his beloved Mayo in his younger days winning many medals along the way. After finishing school Pat spent some time working in England and later in Dublin but returned to his home in Westport in the late seventies.
In 1979 he took his first and only foray into local politics when he decided as a 22 year old businessman, to run for a seat on the then Urban District Council but missed out a seat. No shame in that thought considering the man that beat him to the seat was none other than his good friend Michael Ring from Angelus Park. And he didn’t’ do too bad for himself, did he? Pat was disappointed but as his son Jonathan alluded to in his wonderful eulogy, the disappointment was not shared by his mother, Aileen. Relieved that her son was not entering a life of politics, she was heard to say ‘thanks be to God, my prayers were answered’.
In 1980 he met his future wife Mary Keegan-Mulligan when she came from Ballaghaderreen to work in the Bank of Ireland in Westport. They were married in Rome in 1983 after much deliberation about a venue for the wedding. Because they both came from business back rounds it was decided that no invitation list would satisfy both business’ so the best way out was to go away completely with only parents and witnesses invited. Sadly, just one week before their wedding, Pat’s father, Paddy, passed away.
It was a hard blow for the young couple to take at such a momentous time in their life but they regrouped and set about making a life for themselves on the Octagon. Their six children - Jonathan, Paul, Carl, Patrick, Edward and Lisa - were born and reared there on the Octagon in the thriving and iconic Dunning’s Pub and guesthouse.
Pat loved the business and it was always a hands on job for him. It didn’t matter who the customer was, they were all treated the same. From the big brass around town to the lad who hadn’t washed in four days; from the lad with a full wallet after pay day to the lad who hadn’t two pence to his name. He had time for them all and they all got the same welcome. And they all got a good story. Some of the stories are the stuff of local legend and Jonathan reminded us all of a good few of them at the Funeral Mass. The locals could only laugh at the memories as Jonathan took us on a whistlestop tour of the more famous of the stories told by his father about life in the pub business.
There was a side to Pat Dunning that deserved to be highlighted during his Funeral Mass. It was his generosity to people and in particular to anyone who had fallen on hard times. Fr Charlie spoke about the numerous occasions when he’d ring him late at night to see would he put up someone that was looking for a bed. He always did and he always made sure that he fed them. And they never left until Fr Charlie said it was ok for them to do so. Pat would not have been comfortable with that being said about him in public but it had to be said. He deserved that.
His health started to deteriorate during the nineties and he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a disease of the mussels of the heart and in late 1998 he was told he would need a heart transplant.
In true Pat Dunning fashion he continued to work his business for as long as he was able to, taking time out only to get all the relevant tests needed to get himself onto the transplant list. During this time also he somehow found the energy to run and win the title of “King of the Covies” a competition organised by The Lions Club among business people in Westport to raise much needed monies for the RNLI. The prize for the winner was a very luxurious Caribbean holiday which Pat returned to the Lions Club, asking them to auction or raffle it again as he was now on the Heart Transplant list and could no longer travel.
As the year of 2000 progressed Pat got weaker and weaker and the worry was that he would not be well enough to have the transplant even if a match became available. From August of that year he was barely able to get out of bed each day but still he struggled on. And then the miracle in the autumn happened when the phone call came from the Mater. A heart was available. Even knowing he had about a three to four hour window of time to get to the Mater hospital he would not leave Westport without the encouragement and push of the late Bert Farrell, his good friend and doctor. Needless to say the car had to be met by a Garda escort to ensure timekeeping.
The transplant was a wonderful success and Pat never looked back.
He was very involved in the promotion of organ donation and he travelled to Kobe in Japan to partake in the World transplant games and to Austria for the European transplant games. The medals he won along the way were presented as part of the gifts on the altar for his Funeral Mass.
The huge amount of people he knew was evident in the large crowds that attended at his funeral including His Grace, Archbishop Michael Neary, two former Taoisigh, a current government minister and numerous councillors of all persuasions, all coming to pay their respects. He could never travel anywhere, home or abroad that he didn’t meet someone whom he had a connection with. The only time someone didn’t answer the phone to him was in September when he was looking for about eight or nine tickets to the All Ireland final!
The publicans of Westport all came out in force to escort Pat’s remains from the Octagon to the Church and again, together with the Rugby Club, to take him on his journey to his final resting place. Dispensing with the rules governing the one way traffic system around the Octagon his remains stalled one last time outside the pub that had been such a central part of his life for so many years. From there he was brought to his final resting place in Aughavale Cemetery. May his gentle soul rest in peace.