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Westport legend Tony O’Malley bids farewell to ‘The Round Table’

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FOND FAREWELL Friends gathering with Tony O’Malley at O’Cee’s Cafe Westport on Friday last ahead of his departure for Donegal.


Oisín McGovern

ONE of the most popular men in Westport bid farewell to Mayo last week.
No, not Lee Keegan.
The man we’re talking about is Tony O’Malley, who endeared himself to small army of Covies after he retired here more than two decades ago.
Last Friday, O’Cee’s Coffee Shop on the Octagon was half-filled by old friends who had gathered to see him off before he departs for the hills of Donegal.
A woolly jumper, a peaked cap, a landscape canvass of Westport town and a giant ‘good luck’ card were just some of the parting gifts that Tony received for his big send-off. The staff at O’Cee’s also presented him with his own personalised mug as a thanks for his many years of loyal custom.
His dear friends Tom Flynn and Fr Tony King paid glowing tributes to his warm, affectionate, gregarious and mischievous character, which they said had enlivened so many gatherings and conversations over the years.
“I never had any problem making friends any place I went. Meeting people has always been something I enjoyed very, very much. We always had company,” Tony told The Mayo News during a conversation interrupted on nearly a dozen occasions by hugs, handshakes and well wishes.

Call of home
Though he spent most of his working life in England and Donegal, Tony is Mayo to the backbone.
Born in 1935, Tony spent a happy childhood in Louisburgh before leaving his native area to study for a degree in University College Galway. While there, he met his late wife Molly before pursuing a career in teaching.
Accountancy and economics were his subjects – he assures us that discipline was never an issue in his classes. A move to a teacher training college in Canada was cancelled after he secured a job in the UK following a chance meeting with an old RAF man in a pub in England. The result was five years teaching his favourite subjects in a school in London.
A promotion took him north to a school of 1,750 students in the Dales in Yorkshire, where he became head of school in the last of his five years.
Then home came calling.
“Every summer when we’d come home our children, who were very young at the time, and you’d have them crying going back. ‘Why can’t we live in Ireland, Dad?’,” Tony explains.
“I said ‘Why not?’, and I gave up the job in Yorkshire and came back to Ireland.”
Gaza to the Mall
The O’Malley’s then uprooted from the Dales of Yorkshire to the glens of Tír Conaill, where Tony spent the next 26 years teaching in Glencolmcille.
“There comes a time when I say to myself ‘I’ve done it all’, well as far as teaching was concerned. I was still young enough, so I retired at 60,” Tony says.
“My wife chose where to come back to, and we came back to Westport, and I’ve been here since. Now I’ve reached a stage that living on my own is not suitable, so I’m going back to Donegal and back to my daughter.”
In those 20-plus years in Westport, Tony became something of an institution in the town. Just ask the people who flocked to O’Cee’s with hugs, kisses and gifts for the departing local legend.
Tom Flynn and he are the last remaining members of ‘The Round Table’, an eclectic gaggle who convened in O’Cee’s every morning after daily Mass.
The breadth, quality and passion of their discussions about local, national and international news would have easily rivalled that of a Pat Kenny or Vincent Browne show. Be it Brexit, Covid, the Gaza Strip or the Mall River, no matter was considered to great or too trivial to escape their dissection.

‘This lovely thing’
“My wife and I when we came here we were made feel very, very welcome,” Tony says.
“We’d go to Mass every morning and after mass in the morning we’d go in for a cup of coffee the two of us. Our neighbours would be here. We had a lot in common, as they were my generation and some of them were retired teachers from England.
“We started having a cup of coffee in the morning and after the cup of coffee we’d sit around and chat. Some died off, others replaced them, but the result was this lovely thing, this group,” he adds, referring to the packed tables surrounding him.
“I met an awful lot of nice people, people from all over that are here today.”
Tony O’Malley remains fairly confident that he will return to his beloved Mayo as a visitor rather than a resident. Whenever that happens, ‘The Round Table’ in O’Cee’s will be there waiting for him.
“Westport to me will always be home, no matter where I go.”