Barney O'Dowd RIP

One of my first memories of Barney is of him entering a room at Benburb Priory in County Tyrone in 2000, he was there to attend a meeting which had been organised by the Pat Finucane Centre. This older man walked through the door and just lit up the room. Even though he was there to meet others who had lost loved ones during the recent conflict he still had a smile on his face and a handshake that could break your hand. That was the first time a remember meeting Barney and it led to a near quarter century of friendship with both Barney and the extended O’Dowd family circle.

Barney O'Dowd and Alan Brecknell

In my youth I had often heard the names O’Dowd and Reavey, they were two families who had lost family members just two weeks after my father was killed, I suppose this was why the names were familiar to me. It was also impossible not to grow up and hear about the Kingsmill massacre which happened the day after the O’Dowd and Reavey killings. In later life Barney met with Alan Black who was shot numerous times that night just as Barney had, thankfully for them both and their families they survived.Barney with Alan Black

Photo of Barney with Alan Black, the sole survivor of the Kingsmill Massacre. Photo shared with the permission of Alan Black & the O'Dowd family.

Many people in life are described as gentlemen but no other term could more aptly describe Barney than he was one of life’s true gentleman. Barney and his family attended many meetings, legal challenges, book and film launches over the intervening years and Barney made it his business to talk to as many people in the room as he could, it was just who he was. As one friend said on hearing of his passing, “Barney was a fine gentleman, with a big heart and smile that would light up the room.”

On the 4th January 1976 the O’Dowd clan were having a family event in Barney’s house in Ballyduggan, County Armagh when a number of gunmen entered the house firing machine guns. Barney lost two sons, Barry and Declan and his brother Joe in the attack. Barney was seriously injured and spent a number of weeks in hospital, thankfully he survived and only last May celebrated his 100th birthday receiving a letter from Irish President Michael D Higgins which stated “I am conscious, I assure you, of the great sorrow inflicted on you, and personal suffering too, which makes it even more important, even at a distance. I will salute your indomitable spirit on the day, and recall those taken from you.” 

The attack on the O’Dowd family was part of a series of attacks across countries Armagh, Tyrone, Antrim, Down, Louth, Monaghan and Dublin, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings which became known as the ‘Glenanne’ series of killings. Over the years Barney became very friendly with those affected by these attacks and was supportive of them at all times.

Since 2000 Barney was always a great supporter of the work of the Pat Finucane Centre and travelled from his home in Trim to attend meetings no matter where they were in the country. He not only raised our spirits but gave us all hope and energy and showed us all how to enjoy life, friends and family.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam