ONE of Cork’s most accomplished businessmen Val O’Connor was laid to rest on Monday, after passing away last Wednesday week in Marymount Hospice.
The funeral director, who had turned 90 in February, was remembered for his warmth and innovation at the funeral mass.
Mr O’Connor had a large family, with his wife Annette — children Laura, Finbarr, Sally-Ann, and Lisa, and his grandchildren Ian, Alison, Shane and Jenna.
Mr O’Connor was a founding member of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors and chair of the fundraising committee for the North Cathedral refurbishment.
He was also a committee member of Opera 2005 which brought Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and Italian soprano Paola Sanguinetti to Collins Barracks in 2005 when Cork was European Capital of Culture.
O’Connor Bros was established in 1887 in Blarney Street by Thomas F O’Connor.
The business moved to 70 Shandon Street after the company was passed to John Francis and Thomas Finbarr O’Connor, sons of the founder, and subsequently moved to North Gate Bridge, where it is still located, under the ownership of Val O’Connor, grandson of the founder.
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. O’Connor Bros celebrated its 130th year in business in 2017.
Speaking at his Requiem mass, former Lord Mayor Jim Corr spoke of the role his friend played in Cork life for so many years.
“I want to express my thoughts on the enormous contribution made by Val to the life of Cork and its people for over 41 years.
“I say 41 years because during that period I was an elected member of Cork City Council and I experienced the commitment of Val to the life of our city by his engagement on a voluntary basis in a range of events designed to enhance the life of our city and its people.
“I recall that in the early 1980s we councillors had just completed the plans to enhance the land use and transportation ambitions for our city and its environs and we decided then that we should pursue a campaign to revitalise the historic story of our city and strive to advance and support the cultural life of Cork.
“We were preparing for 1985 the year marking the 850th anniversary of the granting of the first charter to Cork.
“We invited a number of men and women from the business and service life of Cork to be part of the city council’s ambitions to promote the celebration of Cork 800.
“Val O’Connor was a member of that committee and he played a highly successful role in getting business associations and cultural organisations from all over Ireland to hold their annual general meetings of 1985 in Cork and cultural groups to come to our city and share their skills in music, song and dance throughout 1985.”
Mr Corr spoke of Mr O’Connor’s ability to bolster the Cork International Choral Festival in its time of need in the late 1980s.
“In the late 1980s the Cork International Choral Festival, which had been an annual event in our city since 1955, with choirs from all over the world competing, was experiencing fundamental difficulties.
“Val joined the board and for four years used his knowledge and skills to ensure that the International Choral Festival would remain a very important feature of the cultural life of our city. He was successful and that festival remains a major international cultural event in our city to this day.
“In the mid-1990s the late Bishop Michael Murphy asked Val to take on the responsibility to raise money to renew and revitalise this Cathedral and for four years Val chaired that finance committee and accumulated funding from at home and abroad to transform the inner-design and appearance of this Cathedral.
“In 2005 Cork was granted the status of Cultural Capital of Europe. The City Council wanted Val to be a member of a committee which would organise a diversity of events to promote the life of Cork in the course of that special year.
“Val and a few of his friends established an Opera Company and in the course of 2005 Operatic Groups from at home and abroad performed in Cork.”
The former Lord Mayor told the congregation how Mr O’Connor financially assisted the culture of Cork, paying off the debts of the Opera Company after Cork’s year as Capital of Culture.
“At the end of that Cultural Capital year the company was terminated, and Val and his fellow directors paid off from their own personal monies the bills owed by that company.
“Also, in July 2005 Val organised the holding of the Andre Bocelli Concert on the square of Collins Barracks.
“It was a beautiful summers evening with 10,500 people seated on the barracks square enjoying a wonderful evening of music and song.
“It was one of the best-remembered events in the year of Cork’s designation as Cultural Capital of Europe.”
Mr Corr also mentioned Mr O’Connor’s charitable spirit and his generosity. “When the costs incurred in presenting that wonderful concert were paid, Val decided that the remaining funding should be shared by a number of charitable and cultural organisations in our city.
“I want to say to Val’s beloved wife Annette and his family, thank you for sharing his commitment and skills with the life of our city.”
Mr Corr said that throughout the lifespan of Mr O’Connor, the city of Cork benefited immensely from his valiant efforts to enhance his hometown.
“My dear friends let us remember that each day is given to us to fulfil the purpose of our lives; we all have a unique gift and calling that is ours alone. When we have a sense of purpose we don’t drift, we listen to our all. We discern what is right at any particular time.
“Val O’Connor did just that and Cork benefited from his commitment and skills.
“We have joined in the celebration of his funeral Mass. Let us now recall the traditional Irish blessing and we say to Val: “May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, the rains fall soft on your fields and until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
Mr O’Connor was laid to rest at St Finbarr’s Cemetery.