'Putting himself first was never a consideration': A tribute to Noel Collins

Noel Collins passed away peacefully on Monday aged 86, following a long illness.
'Putting himself first was never a consideration': A tribute to Noel Collins

Noel Collins with Hugo, a therapy dog with Dogs for the Disabled.

“ONE day he’ll be a great man. He’ll do great work for Ireland.”

Those words were spoken by Michael Collins’s father about his then-six-year-old son, but they could just as easily apply to Cllr Noel Collins – one of the Big Fella’s most ardent admirers.

On Monday June 13, 2022, Cllr Collins went to his eternal reward and, in so doing, left us all the poorer for his passing.

He was a gentleman, and a gentle man; a tireless crusader for justice; a man of the people, and for the people.

As Cork County Council’s longest-standing councillor, he gave voice to the voiceless for over half a century, his carefully thought-out remarks echoing through County Hall and at the meetings of Midleton Town Council. He could rain fire and brimstone better than anyone – especially when it came to social injustice and those who perpetuate it.

Those lucky enough to be the recipient of correspondence from Cllr Collins were met by his inimitable handwriting on an envelope which contained carefully typed pages from his trusty typewriter. 

On more than one occasion he lamented the fact that he had a “wonky R” – but a blue biro and some trusty Tippex ensured the occasional slip-up was rectified. 

Cllr Noel Collins with Ballyannon wood in background. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony
Cllr Noel Collins with Ballyannon wood in background. Picture: Maurice O'Mahony

His role as councillor was not one that this Dubliner-by-birth took lightly. He was elected by the people of his adopted home, Cork; was honoured to do their bidding and, on several occasions, their bedding (well into his 80s he received a request from one “auld fella in the town” who needed help to have his mattress flipped. Noel duly obliged).

A phone call from Noel (who apocryphally had neither landline nor mobile phone of his own) was always a treat. His sonorous tones could rouse one to storm the barricades at a moment’s notice – his impassioned pleas for justice ringing in your ears. Moments later, you were giggling hysterically as he recounted a certain trip to Knock and the wonderful use one can make of a horse box (if needs must). And, if you could make him chuckle in turn, it was a joy to hear: a booming, belly laugh that tickled the soul.

Longest serving county councillors Frank O’Flynn, Noel Collins and Michael Hegarty at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the County Hall, on the Carrigrohane Road in 2018.	Picture: Eddie O’Hare
Longest serving county councillors Frank O’Flynn, Noel Collins and Michael Hegarty at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the opening of the County Hall, on the Carrigrohane Road in 2018. Picture: Eddie O’Hare

From criminal rehabilitation to slum landlords, ghost estates to housing lists, and youth hostels to flood defences, there was no issue that Cllr Collins would not tackle. While not always victorious, his successes well outnumbered the occasions when ‘the powers that be’ were not on Noel’s side.

THE LOW WALL CLINICS

One would often see Noel perched on the low wall at the end of Midleton’s Church Lane each Saturday morning for his ‘weekly clinics’ (a cushion provided by a friend made chillier days more “bearable on the behind” – Noel’s own words). There he could be found dispensing information, offering advice and fastidiously recording the grievances of the electorate. His incredible dedication to Cork Simon and his generosity to those in need was without parallel.

Councillor Noel Collins.
Councillor Noel Collins.

His home – aptly named “St Jude’s” – on Midleton’s St Mary’s Road was filled with mementoes, thank-you cards and, in his kitchen, a full wall of memorial cards, ensuring those who were gone were never forgotten.

The kitchen also played host to an obstreperous cuckoo clock, which would break into full-throated song at the most inopportune of moments – usually when attempting to take a swig of MiWadi (a bottle of which was always readily available) without spilling it, midway through a story about the Knock Marriage Bureau.

Councillor Noel Collins.
Councillor Noel Collins.

There are no words that do Cllr Noel Collins justice. The superlatives simply do not exist. Fearless, passionate, compassionate, fierce, fiercely independent, empathetic, gracious, resolute, kind, devoted, charming, and brave don’t even come close.

Perhaps the best word to describe Noel was simply “selfless”. 

Putting himself first was never a consideration. He fought for those in need; it was second nature to him. The number of lives he improved we shall never know in full. In death, he continues to help his fellow man: he has willed his body to UCC for medical research… selfless to the end.

Noel Collins in 1988 in Midleton.
Noel Collins in 1988 in Midleton.

He was one-of-a-kind, an enigma, a friend, a councillor, a counsellor, and – above all else – a humanitarian.

In his memory, let us continue to fight the good fight.

Cllr Collins – with our thanks for everything – rest in peace.

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