Trading Stories: O'Connor Bros Funeral Directors caring for Cork's deceased for 130 years

Having directed the funerals of people like Terence McSwiney Tomas Mac Curtain and Jack Lynch, the family were also honoured recently with a civic reception in City Hall
Trading Stories: O'Connor Bros Funeral Directors caring for Cork's deceased for 130 years

Laura Humphries and Finbarr O'Connor of O'Connor Bros Funeral Directors receiving the Best Cork Family Business from Cork Business Association President Pat o'Connell. Picture: Miki Barlok

Tell us the history of the business? 

O'Connor Bros. was established in 1887 in Blarney Street by Thomas F. O'Connor. 

The company moved their offices to 70 Shandon Street after the company was passed to John Francis and Thomas Finbarr O'Connor, (sons of the founder) and then subsequently to North Gate Bridge (where we are still located), under the ownership of Val O'Connor, (grandson of the founder).

I'm Val's son and I'm the managing director, and, with my sister, Laura Humphries, we are the fourth generation of the family to work in the company.

O'Connor Bros. opened the first funeral home in Ireland in 1967. Prior to this, removals were carried out from hospital morgues or from family homes. Hospital morgues were cold, unwelcoming places that were never designed to accomodate large gatherings. 

Similarly, removals from family homes put undue pressure on the bereaved family, who were regularly inundated with well-wishers, whilst trying to get on with the everyday tasks such as eating, washing and sleeping. A lot of houses didn't have the physical space to accommodate such gatherings. The Funeral Home provides a sitting room atmosphere, away from the family house, where people can gather in the presence of their loved one.

Terence MacSwiney's funeral leaving Cork's North Cathedral. The funeral was directed by O'Connor Bros. Pic: Mercier Archives
Terence MacSwiney's funeral leaving Cork's North Cathedral. The funeral was directed by O'Connor Bros. Pic: Mercier Archives

Terence O'Connor of Shandon Street joined us at North Gate Bridge in 2004 when he found it difficult to operate from his former premises, in the middle of Shandon Street, due to parking restrictions. 

Other funeral businesses such as Frederick Bogan of Merchants Quay, R.Cronin & Sons of Sullivans Quay and Desmonds of Conway's Yard have merged with O'Connor Bros. Funeral Homes Ltd. over the years.

O'Connor Bros Funeral Homes is the innovator in the funeral industry and we are proud of the fact that we have given a continuous personal service since the company's inception almost 130 years ago. 

That's over a million hours of unbroken service to bereaved families. The company has carried out the funeral arrangements of many famous Corkonians such as Terence McSwiney, Tomás McCurtin, former Taoiseach Jack Jynch, Hugh Coveney, Gerald Goldberg and Bishops Daniel Coughlan, Cornelius Lucey and Michael Murphy.

We are founder members of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors (I.A.F.D.) and are Members of the British Institute of Embalmers (B.I.E.) and the Professional Embalmers Association of Ireland (P.E.A.I.)

Tell us about your staff. 

We have 14 full-time staff members who are dedicated to the Funeral Business. We have a very small turnover of staff - most have been with us 20+years, some in excess of 40 years. 

How do you feel about winning the CBA best family business award? 

Absolutely thrilled. This award has been dedicated to all our employees, past and present. Without them, we would not be here.

Does it help people to know that they are dealing with a family business? 

The personal touch is paramount. The longevity of our firm comforts families with the knowledge that our family has the experience of 130 years of carrying out funerals. In some countries, the funeral business is run by huge conglomerates and the personal touch has been forgotten.

Val O'Connor, proprietor of O'Connor's funeral home, North Gate Bridge who are celebrating 130 years in business, signing the visitors book during a reception hosted by the Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, with Finbarr O'Connor, managing director. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Val O'Connor, proprietor of O'Connor's funeral home, North Gate Bridge who are celebrating 130 years in business, signing the visitors book during a reception hosted by the Lord Mayor Cllr Tony Fitzgerald, with Finbarr O'Connor, managing director. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

How do you approach your services to make people comfortable? 

The primary job of funeral professionals years ago was burying the deceased, whereas today it is caring for the living by assuring families that we will carry out the funeral of their loved one with sensitivity, respect and professionalism. We have carried out funerals for many generations of the same family.

Has there been many changes in this industry during your time?  

By and large, families are free to decide how to hold a funeral and inter their loved ones as they deem appropriate. In Ireland, religion plays a role in most funeral traditions, but certainly not all. Humanist funerals are on the increase as is cremation. 

The influx of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus amongst others to Ireland have brought with them burial rituals which we previously would not have been familiar with. We have had to adapt and research these different burial rites and have reached a point where all these different groups are confident for us to carry out their funeral arrangements in accordance with their traditions.

What is the most important thing that you have learned working in this business? 

The lessons I learned in the funeral business are ones that will stick with me for a lifetime. 

Over the years, I learned that you don’t always get a second chance, that life can be unfair, and that every moment we have with the people we love is precious. We’re all dying, but until that day comes, I plan to spend my time truly living.

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