Peadar O’Dowd, the passing of an old Galwegian

Peadar O’Dowd’s credentials for writing about Galway were impeccable. One of four children, Nono, Willie, Martin and Peadar, born to their parents John and Bridget, he grew up in Bohermore and was always grateful for the fact. He lived his life there and throughout that life would celebrate the area and its people in hundreds of articles and interviews he published in various newspapers and journals.

He was educated in St Brendan’s in Woodquay and in St Mary’s College where he spent ‘five of the happiest years of his life’ and later completed a Commerce degree in UCG. Having graduated, he taught for a year in “The Mon”, then went to teach in St Benin’s Vocational School, Glenamaddy where he also managed to coach the camogie team to win the County Schools championship in 1969. He eventually moved on from there to join the staff of the Regional Technical College as a lecturer in Business Studies. He was fortunate to meet and marry Mary Langan from Cross, Co Mayo.

He had a lot of sporting interests, notably angling. He spent countless hours on the lake, won many competition trophies at different levels, and represented Ireland on a number of occasions. An all-the-year-round swimmer, he regularly walked from Bohermore to Blackrock for his swim. He was a very good badminton player and as you can see from our photograph, often partnered his wife Mary in tournaments. When she hit a good shot he would say “Well done Mrs O’Dowd”. If she hit a bad one, he would say “Not too good Mary Langan”.

He completed an adult BA in UCG in German and Archaeology in 1984 and it was largely thanks to Professor Etienne Rynne that he developed an interest in archaeology, lore, legend, mythology, history and especially local history that captivated him most and brought him to the attention of many. He published, and often illustrated, a huge number of articles in the Connacht Tribune and the Sentinel. In the 1970s he became the first editor of St Patrick’s Parish Magazine which is still being published under the banner Galway’s Own. It had a modest beginning and was originally printed on stencilled sheets, but over the years it has accumulated a very important archive of material relating to the parish.

Peadar was very active in the Old Galway Society and also of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, not just as a member, but also giving talks and lectures and occasionally contributing learned articles to journals. He should probably be in the Guinness Book of Records for giving guided tours of Galway and explaining the history of buildings and the stories of characters who occupied those buildings. He was a founder of the Galway Waterways Preservation Society in 1967.

In addition to these columns, lectures and tours, he was a prolific writer and has published a very impressive list of titles which includes Old and New Galway published in 1985; Galway City Waterways, A Walking Guide; Vanishing Galway, 1987; Galway, Heart of the West with Brendan Lawlor, 1991; Down by the Claddagh, 1993; The Great Famine and the West, 2000; In From the West, The McDonough Dynasty, 2002; Galway on the Bay with Dick Byrne and Derek Biddulph, 2002; Galway in Old Photographs, 2003; A History of County Galway, 2004; Christmas Tales of Galway, 2006; Galway and Corrib Anglers' Association, 75 Years, 2009; Final Tales of Galway, 2009; Tracing your Galway Ancestors, 2011; A History of St Mary’s College, editor, 2012; and Glenamaddy Boyounagh, Our People, Our Heritage, editor, 2018.

There are probably a few more titles that could be added to that list. His book on the Claddagh quickly sold out so it was decided to reprint it and the launch for the reprint was held in Crowe’s Pub, Bohermore. The then King of the Claddagh was in attendance with some of his mates and as they were leaving, he opened the door, turned and loudly called back, “Do you know why they got a Bohermore fella to write a history of the Claddagh? ‘Cos there was feck all to write about in Bohermore.” He quickly took off and left all the “Pass if you can” people laughing.

Our first photograph shows Peadar in his normal good humour in the Kenny Gallery in 1993, at the time of the launch of his ‘Down By the Claddagh’ book. Our second image shows Peadar as captain of the Galway Lawn Tennis Club’s badminton team who were beaten by the Columban team in the County League final in 1982. They are, seated: Martina McGrath, Mary O’Dowd (Peadar’s wife ), Nicola Hayden and Freda Smyth. Standing are Tony Steen, Peadar O’Dowd, James Sullivan and Pádraic Cummins.

Peadar’s death on January 4 has left a huge vacuum in Galway and especially around Bohermore. He will be greatly missed but we are fortunate that he has left us a rich legacy with his articles, lectures, broadcasts and especially his books.

Rest easy aul shtock.


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