Seanad Éireann - Volume 156 - 14 October, 1998

Death of Former Members: Expressions of Sympathy.

Mr. Cassidy: It was with deep regret that we learned of the sudden death of a very esteemed former Member of this House, Senator James Larkin. Nominated to the Seanad in 1982 by the then Taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey, he served as a Member of the House for only one year. To those of us who had the pleasure and honour of serving with him, he commanded the respect of all for hard work, dedication and commitment to public life.

James was first elected a member of the Letterkenny local urban district council in 1967. He was chairman of that council on five different occasions, including a term of three years in the early nineties. He was a highly respected member of Donegal Vocational Education Committee and a member of the National Library Board at a time when the new library at Oliver Plunkett Road was developed. He was also a member of the national executive of the Municipal Authorities of Ireland and a founder member of Independent Fianna Fáil. He was a life long friend of the late Neil Blaney, TD, and directed every election on his behalf since the early seventies. He had a record of never losing an election which he directed. He gave his wholehearted support to the development of Letterkenny. When he spoke at council meetings, we are told, everyone listened. He was not a man to seek the limelight but in his own quiet way he got the work done. Regardless of political or religious persuasions, he was supported by people from all walks of life.

A fine sportsman, he was highly thought of in the sporting world. He was a prominent member of St. Eunan's GAA club where he played senior football from the age of 15 years. He won his first senior county championship medal in 1956 and went on to win three more titles, captaining the team in 1969 — the same year as he and his team mates took the cup to the United States of America. A former chairman, manager and secretary of St. Eunan's Club, he was proud to be manager when the club won the 1972 county championship. Such was his involvement and commitment to his county that his sudden death has shocked and saddened the people of Donegal who mourn his passing.

On behalf of the House and the Fianna Fáil Party, I extend my deepest sympathy to his wife Eileen, his sons, Dessie and Kieran, daughters, Carla and Alison and his brother and sisters. May he rest in peace.

[987] It was with deep regret that we learned some time ago of the death of a respected former Member of this House, Bobby Burke. Senator Burke was a member of the Labour Party and a candidate in the Dáil elections in County Galway from 1933 to 1948. He was a member of Galway County Council for many years and was elected to Seanad Éireann on the Agricultural Panel in 1948 where he served until 1950 at which time both he and his wife, Anne, went as lay missionaries to Nigeria.

Bobby was also actively involved in voluntary housing activities in the 1930s to provide badly needed accommodation in the Tuam area in particular. In keeping with his compassion for his fellow man, Bobby donated Toghermore House to the Government, originally as a rehabilitation centre for former TB patients and today it remains in operation as part of the Western Health Board.

Bobby and his wife, Anne, spent most of their lives working on behalf of those less well off than themselves, particularly in West Africa. I know their efforts have been greatly appreciated by those who have benefited.

On behalf of the House and the Fianna Fáil Party, I wish to convey my deepest sympathy to Bobby's wife, Anne, his daughter, Patricia, and family and to those in the Labour Party who have lost a very esteemed member. Go ndeanaí Dia trócaire ar a anam.

Mr. Manning: I wish to be associated with these votes of sympathy. I did not serve in this House with the late Senator James Larkin but I knew him socially. I always found him to be a very direct, straightforward person who was very committed to County Donegal and was very loyal to the ideals which were best expressed by the late Neil Blaney. His loyalty to Neil Blaney was total and he was a very effective member of his electoral team over a long period. I extend my sympathy and that of my party to his family.

I did not know the late Senator Robert Burke but I wish I had, having listened to the description we have heard of his life. He was clearly a quite extraordinary person who fought the Labour cause in Galway over many barren years with little chance of success. He was finally elected to the Seanad in 1948 but he left after just two years to serve as a lay missionary in West Africa. His generosity in giving his house to the Government for the treatment of TB patients was a singular act of public spirited generosity.

There was a vein of public service throughout his entire life. He was a generous man who was prepared to put the public good above his own interest. He deserves to be better known because he led a remarkable life of public service. I extend my deepest sympathy and that of my party to his surviving family.

Mr. Ross: I wish to express my sympathy to the relatives of the late Senator Larkin. I remember [988] when he was a Senator for a short period in the early 1980s.

He was a Member with great courage and conviction and he was not frightened to walk out of the mainstream of political life for the principles in which he believed, but in which many others did not believe. He had the courage to take that stand and to follow the late Deputy Blaney into the political wilderness. Even if we did not agree with him, we can respect him for that. I remember him very well as someone whom every Member of the House respected for his views, although they were in disagreement with them. I pay tribute to that and those views today.

Like many Members, I was not born when the late Senator Burke was first elected to this House. However, I want to be associated with the remarks made by Senators Cassidy and Manning about his obvious dedication. It would do many of us no harm to take the same road as he did and become missionaries when we leave this House, but it is not a road we are likely to take. On a more serious note, although we did not know him, we respect what we know of him and we would like to be associated with the votes of sympathy to his family.

Mr. Costello: I would also like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family of the late Senator James Larkin. I did not know him personally but, in the words of the Leader, he was a man of wide ranging interests and gave public service to Donegal County Council, the vocational education committee and many sporting activities. He departed with Neil Blaney to establish Independent Fianna Fáil and was clearly a man of ability, public service and integrity. I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to his family.

The late Senator Robert Malachy Burke died on Sunday, 20 September 1998 in Belfast, where he lived in retirement with his wife. On behalf of the Labour Party, I offer my sympathies and condolences to his wife Anne, his daughter Patricia and her family.

Robert, who was better known as Bobby, was born in Ballyduggan, Loughrea, County Galway, in 1907 and became a lifelong member of the Labour Party contesting elections in County Galway between 1933 and 1948. He was unsuccessful but came close to getting elected on a number of occasions and polled over 5,000 in the 1943 election in East Galway.

He was, however, elected to Galway County Council in 1942 and was elected to the Seanad on the Agricultural Panel in 1948 and resigned his seat in 1950 when he and his wife went as lay missionaries to Nigeria. They were the last missionaries to be evacuated on the outbreak of the Biafran War. Subsequently, they went back to Africa working with Concern in a number of African countries.

Bobby Burke was a member of the Church of Ireland and was a philanthropist, an idealist and a Christian socialist. He was an honorary secretary [989] to branches of such diverse organisations as the Royal Lifeboat Institution, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the League of Nations Society of Ireland. He was also active in Muintir na Tíre and in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He inherited 500 acres of land from his uncle which he gave to the Land Commission for division among local farmers. He set up a co-operative farm on the family estate, the Toghermore Co-operative, with the members, who were agricultural labourers, democratically running the farm. They supplied the produce of the farm to the poor of the area at greatly reduced prices.

He was deeply concerned about the living conditions of the urban and rural poor and became an enthusiastic supporter of the war on slums campaign in the 1930s. He was instrumental in establishing the Tuam Public Utilities Society which built 320 houses in the Tuam area between 1932 and 1942 for those living in slum dwellings. They also built caravans for the large travelling community in the Tuam area.

An admirer of Dr. Noel Browne when he and his wife Anne departed for Africa in 1950, he donated the family home, Toghermore House, to the Government as a rehabilitation centre for recovering TB patients and it remains with the Western Health Board. He lived a long and active life based on true Christian and socialist principles and we in the Labour Party are proud of him. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Mr. Dardis: On behalf of the Progressive Democrats I would like to be associated with the votes of sympathy to the families of the late Jim Larkin and Bobby Burke. It is obvious that James Larkin was deeply committed to his native county of Donegal both in the sporting and political arenas and served the people of the area effectively and well. It has been remarked that he displayed considerable political courage in the political path he took and it is a mark of his success that he was instrumental in the successful elections of Neil Blaney to Dáil Éireann.

In respect of Bobby Burke, it must be said that he had a remarkable degree of commitment to the underprivileged at home and abroad. I can think of few others who would have donated their home to the disadvantaged suffering from tuberculosis or, indeed, who would have served in a missionary capacity overseas. That is testimony to the quality of the person we mourn today. To the wife and family of the late James Larkin and to the family of Robert Burke, we extend our sympathy.

Mr. Bonner: I am glad of the opportunity to pay tribute to a fellow countyman, James Larkin, who also served in this House. He came from an esteemed family in Letterkenny and was first elected to the urban council in 1967 and was entering into his thirty second consecutive year of serving the local community in Letterkenny. He was chairman of that council on five occasions [990] and was nominated to the Seanad in 1982 by Mr. Charles Haughey. It was a unique achievement because a fellow urban district councillor in Letterkenny, former Senator Bernard McGlinchey, a colleague of former Senator Larkin, was nominated on the same day. It was a great achievement for the town of Letterkenny to have two Senators nominated on the same day.

While former Senator Larkin was initially elected to the urban council as a Fianna Fáil member, as Senator Ross said he left the party and went out on a political limb with the late Deputy Neil Blaney. What I remember most about him is his loyalty until the end to the late Deputy Blaney and to his brother, Deputy Harry Blaney. Former Senator Larkin was an astute politician and a great man with words. He was very witty and his great sense of humour deflated and cooled political arguments on many occasions. He was a true son of the town of Letterkenny and served it extremely well.

He showed the same dedication in his membership of the GAA and his service to the local club, St. Eunan's. He won four championship medals with St. Eunan's and, as Senator Cassidy said, he was the team's captain in 1969. My first memory of the late former Senator Larkin is watching him on the football field. Although he was what we call a wee man, he had a great tactical brain and was a great fielder of a ball. After his playing days he continued to serve the local club as manager, secretary and chairman. He will be a great loss to the town of Letterkenny, both politically and in the area of sport. Above all, he will be a great loss to his family, particularly his wife, Eileen, his sons, Dessie and Kiaran, and his daughters, Carla and Alison. I also remember his brothers, Frank and particularly Gabriel who is ill at present, and his eight sisters. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dilis.

An Cathaoirleach: I, too, wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy. I ask Members to rise in their places as a mark of respect to two very distinguished former Senators.

Members rose in their places.