'Everyone knew Billa, but we were privileged to know grandad': Family and friends say farewell to Cork icon 

'Everyone knew Billa, but we were privileged to know grandad': Family and friends say farewell to Cork icon 

The remains of Billa O’Connell are removed from The Lough Church, Cork following his funeral

“Everyone knew Billa, but we were absolutely privileged to know grandad. He was one of a kind and one in a million,” were the poignant words of Bill O’Connell as he paid tribute to his beloved father Billa O’Connell.

The people of Cork gathered this morning to bid a fond farewell to one of its favourite sons, who passed away on Thursday, at the age of 91.

Billa O’Connell left an indelible mark on the fabric of Cork and was best known for his performances in roles such as Dame and as one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella.

The remains of Billa O’Connell are removed by family from The Lough Church.
The remains of Billa O’Connell are removed by family from The Lough Church.

The parish priest of The Lough, Canon John Paul Hegarty, presided over the funeral mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception, The Lough, a church the late Billa visited on a daily basis. He was assisted by Canon Jim O’Donovan.

The funeral mass started with Canon John Paul Hegarty welcoming everyone, before symbols of Billa’s life were brought up by family members to the table at the foot of the altar.

The gifts included theatre masks which reflected his lifetime involvement in drama and the arts. Other gifts were a St Finbarr’s GAA jersey which reflected Billa’s passion for Gaelic Games and a family photograph that symbolised his love for his family.

The late Billa O'Connell 
The late Billa O'Connell 

Mr O’Connell’s son Chris and his daughter Carol Ann then performed the first and second readings respectively before Canon John Paul Hegarty gave a moving homily which focused on Billa’s 'God-given talent to bring a ray of sunshine to all our lives'.

“He was a brilliant performer and a singer, but also a true and proud ambassador for Cork, both on and off the stage.

"Billa was deeply loved and well respected by the people of Cork and beyond. His career stretched for 70 years. He brought a sense of humour when he was on stage. He will be best remembered for his pantomimes and the joy of laughter he brought to so many people, both young and old alike. To say Billa was a truly gifted man and a master of comedy would very inadequately describe him,” he said.

Canon Hegarty said he will be sorely missed by all who knew him. 

“Cork has lost a man who contributed hugely to the arts and culture of our city. 

"He will be fondly remembered by all who knew him and sadly missed by the people of our city, county and beyond.

“The people of the Lough Parish will miss Billa. He was a deeply religious man and a man of faith. The greatest loss is to his family. He shared a journey of life with them in a very personal, intimate and loving way,” he added.

Theatre Producer and Director Pat Talbot consoles Nell, widow of Billa O'Connell, after the funeral.
Theatre Producer and Director Pat Talbot consoles Nell, widow of Billa O'Connell, after the funeral.

The Prayers of the Faithful were then read by his granddaughters Aoife, Carol, Ciara, Amy and Lisa.

Following the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Mr O’Connell’s son Bill recalled growing up in a household that was full of love and laughs.

“There were two sides to him, Billa who everyone knew, but to us, he was dad and latterly he was grandad. 

"To call him remarkable is an understatement, but he had a remarkable wife as well. He was completely devoted to her. They were married 66 years last Monday.

He was fantastic with the grandchildren who have fantastic memories of him,” he said.

Passion and a tremendous legacy 

Bill praised his late father for the legacy he has left behind. 

“He was a legend within the greater Cork area. He left a great legacy. The talent the man had is definitely legendary. He had some appetite for work. He worked morning and night. He was witty, very quick-witted and known for his caustic lines. His ability to entertain is legendary.” 

Dr Con Murphy and Taoisech Micheal Martin after the remains of Billa O’Connell are removed from The Lough Church , Cork following his funeral. 
Dr Con Murphy and Taoisech Micheal Martin after the remains of Billa O’Connell are removed from The Lough Church , Cork following his funeral. 

Bill said his beloved father had four main passions in life, but family always came first. 

“He had four passions in life. His family, his faith, entertainment, GAA and predominantly the Barrs. Family was always first. His family was everything to him. He was a proud Lough man and a proud Lough parish man. Everyone knew Billa, but we were absolutely privileged to know grandad. He was one of a kind and one in a million. May he rest in peace.” 

The retired Bishop of Cork and Ross, Dr John Buckley then said a prayer before Billa’s coffin was taken to St Finbarr’s Cemetery for burial.

The entertainer is survived by his wife Nell, their six children, 19 grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

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