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Walsh, Richard A. (1916-1993)

Community Activist & Politician

Richard Augustine Walsh was born in 1916 in an Irish-speaking household in the townland of Coolroe in the Old Parish Gaeltacht. Educated at Old Parish National School and Dungarvan Technical School, he began his working career at Dickens Leather Factory in Dungarvan. An active footballer, he captained the Dungarvan team in the 1940s. In 1937 he married Mary Morrissey, with whom he had eight children. They spent most of their married life in Abbeyside, living successively in St. Patrick's Terrace, Coolagh Road, Murphy Place and the New Line. Richard subsequently worked for a period as Secretary of the Dungarvan Branch of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union (ATGWU) before going into business on his own as a haulier. In his later years he was employed by Central Dairies, Dungarvan before retiring at the age of seventy in 1986.

Richie (as he was popularly known) was strongly committed to the Fine Gael party, and began his career in public life in 1946 when he was nominated to the Waterford County Library Committee in 1946 - a position he retained until his death. He was first elected to Dungarvan Urban District (now Town) Council in 1951 and was re-elected in all subsequent elections, serving as Chairman on five occasions. Richie acted for many years as a representative of Dungarvan Urban Council on the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland (AMAI), including a lengthy period as a member of the Association's National Executive. He attained the pinnacle of his career as a public representative when he served as National President of the AMAI in 1988/89 and proudly brought the Association's Annual Conference to Dungarvan. In 1991 Richie was elected to Waterford County Council at the age of 75.

Richie represented Dungarvan UDC on the Boards of the South East Regional Tourism Organisation and Dungarvan Tourism Limited. He served the Fine Gael party in a variety of positions, including membership of the party's National Council for many years and as a member of the party's Munster Euroconstituency Council. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the party in the Waterford consituency in the 1965 General Election.

Apart from his involvement in politics, Richie Walsh immersed himself in a wide range of voluntary community organisations. In his early years he was particularly involved in Conradh na Gaeilge and in the Abbeyside Pattern Committee. He joined the Local Defence Force (subsequently the FCA) at the beginning of World War 2 and remained active in the force for almost thirty years, eventually retiring with the rank of Company Sergeant. After retiring from the FCA, Richie was instrumental in forming a Dungarvan Branch of the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen (ONE), of which he was Chairman as well as Chairman of the ONE in the Munster Area.

Over time, Richie Walsh greatly expanded the range and depth of his involvement in voluntary work. The list of organisations in which he was actively involved is quite extraordinary. He was Founder Member and Past President of Dungarvan Lions Club, and played a particularly important role in the annual one-week trip to Mosney for local Senior Citizens sponsored by the Lions. He was Founder Member, and for many years Chairman, of St. Martin's Association for Senior Citizens, and was at the same time a member of Abbeyside Senior Citizens' Committee.

Richie was also a Founder Member of St. John's Special School in Dungarvan and was a constant member - including several years as Chairman - of the School's Committee. Again, he was a Founder Member and many times Chairman of the Dungarvan Guide Dogs Association. In the last five years of his life he became deeply involved in the Dungarvan and West Waterford Branch of the Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, of which he was Founder Member and Chairman. Other local groups in which he participated included the Wheelchair Association, the Friends of Dungarvan District Hospital and Waterford County Museum Committee. He visited the senior citizens at Dunabbey House on a weekly basis.

A deeply religious man, Richie Walsh was President of the Abbeyside Praesidia of the Legion of Mary, whose weekly meetings he always attended. He was a daily communicant and a regular Reader at Mass in Abbeyside Parish Church, where he sold Catholic newspapers every Sunday. He attended the annual Waterford and Lismore Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes for 21 successive years as Brancardier (helper). He was a key figure in the Committee responsible for the erection of the Grotto to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Youghal Road outside Dungarvan.

Apart from his regular pilgrimages to Lourdes and the Shrine of Padre Pio at San Giovanni, Richie travelled extensively overseas and wrote numerous reports of his trips for the local newspapers in Dungarvan. As a member of the Southeast Branch of the Irish Council of the European Movement he made a number of trips to the European Union's institutions in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. He also regularly attended the annual Reunion of Waterford emigrants in London.

Richie especially valued his frequent trips to the USA, a country he admired greatly. He attended the annual International Convention of the Lions Clubs in the USA on a number of occasions. Most of this father's family emigrated to Boston in the early part of the 20th century, and he developed and maintained a strong relationship with his many cousins in that city. However, there was a special place in his heart for another cousin, Richard J. Daley, who acted as Mayor of Chicago for many terms, and whose grandfather had emigrated from Old Parish in the mid-19th century. Richie played a leading role in the erection of a special plaque to Mayor Daley's memory which stands on the side of the main Dungarvan-Youghal Road at Moonamean and which was unveiled by the Mayor himself on one of his many visits to the locality.

Despite the immensely time-consuming nature of his various political and community ommitments, Richie Walsh nevertheless found time to indulge his great enthusiasm for the card game '45", and played in regular weekly drives. He loved dancing, and particularly traditional sets which he engaged in with typical zest right up to his death. Despite all this, he still managed to fit in regular weekly visits to his brothers and sisters.

Richie Walsh passed away at Waterford Regional Hospital, Ardkeen, on December 27, 1993 at the age of 78 years. He was a man of prodigious energy, kindness and selflessness and had an enormous impact on the town of Dungarvan and its people, and on all others with whom he came in contact. Gan amhras, ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.

Author: William Fraher

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