Johnny O’Donnell

This photo of O’Donnells Pub in Inistioge was taken on the 27th of August 2022. The man to the left of the image is the wonderful Johnny O’Donnell, who sadly is no longer with us.

Johnny O’Donnell was a gentle man. He had this lovely manner about him, a kind word for everyone and the artistic ability to write your name on the head of a pint of Guinness! He had a way of including you. Connecting people.

Even during lockdown, though the doors to the pub weren’t open, Johnny never failed to show up at work. Instead of pulling pints he would pull weeds. Taking pride in the pubs appearance, tending to the flowers, stopping often to meet and greet those of us bound to the 5km rule.

When lockdown lifted and there was talk of pubs reopening, what better way to celebrate than for the pub to have a makeover. Johnny assembled a team of local craftsmen to carry out the mammoth task.

The sign over the door was created by Ceramic Landscape artist Michael Holden. The design was based on a postcard of Inistioge from the late 60s. James Miskella of Miskella Tiling assembled the project over the door. Made up of 80 tiles in total it is truly a work of art. The final touches to the eye-catching display were by Michael Fleming of M&F Painting & Decorating, making the whole building pop with brilliant blue, complimented beautifully by bright yellow doors.

I have fond memories of phone calls from Johnny when he was on his morning walk with his trusty hound Glen. He would ring to tell me “Come down with the camera” because there were swans on the river or maybe an otter on the quay. He was a constant along the river walk in all seasons, often shouting greetings from the Poyntz Road as locals swam at the boat slip.

After the shop front had undergone its renovation Johnny was on the phone again, asking if it were possible to gather all who were involved and take a photograph for prosperity. The timing was never right. Then the flowers went out of bloom, so we had decided we would wait and capture the memory when the flowers were at peak perfection again.

Johnny passed away suddenly aged 57 on December 30 and the photo he dreamed of was never taken.

Fast forward to one rainy morning last June, where in the school carpark I met Dee Maher Ring. I always love it when we get the chance to chat. As we got talking she told me about Inistioge Fascia Signs School Project (IFSSP). The aim of the IFSSP was to connect the pupils with the heritage of the commercial buildings in their village through the lettering of the fascia signs. What had inspired this project? The one and only Johnny O’Donnell.
Following Johnny’s sudden passing, many condolences mentioned the great times at The Spots. Since moving here in 2016, Dee knew O’Donnell’s simply as Johnny’s. She had never heard of The Spots before, and wondered about the heritage of the village’s shopfronts and blank fascias.

Even though Johnny is no longer with us, he is still influencing the village goings on!
Mid chat I mentioned to her that it was a regret of mine that I had never gotten the photo of the pub that Johnny had wanted with all the lads. I boldly asked, if I were to organise “the team” could I perhaps include the finished photo in her exhibition. The answer was of course Yes.
So, committing myself to her deadline, I got to work. And that is how this photo came to life. The first thing to do was contact the O’Donnells and ask their permission to create the image. Thankfully they loved the idea and even sent me some photos of Johnny to manipulate into the photo.

On that August evening myself and Dee met with James and the two Michaels at the front door of the pub. We took a few photos. We chatted a lot more, reminiscing the great man and the great nights had in The Spots. Stories were shared of meeting of all sorts inside the doors to date nights to boxing in the pool room. An unlikely group, we continued the conversation across the road in the Woodstock Arms. Over a drink we raised a glass to our absent friend who, even without being present was bringing people together.

When it came to editing, I called upon my good friend Sandra Garzon. A native of Colombia she somehow found her way to our beautiful part of the world and has lived here now for quite some time. She too had stories of Johnny and his warm welcome from behind the bar and was more than happy to lend an artistic hand to create the photo he had so wanted.

Once Sandra had seamlessly included Johnny into the photograph it was off to Bespoke & Co for printing and mounting. It was an anxious wait for me, but seeing it in all its glory I was taken aback. It was as if Johnny had been there on the day. And in a way, I suppose he was.

The finished photo was hung in Cois Abhann Community Centre, Inistioge, alongside the beautiful artwork created by the children of St. Colmcilles National School. The exhibition was attended by the school children and their teachers as well as parents and members from the community. Cllr Michael Doyle, John Paul Phelan TD and Minister Malcom Noonan were also at the marvellous event. Minister Noonan spoke beautifully about the children’s work and how important the IFSSP project was to the heritage of Ireland.

Also in attendance were members of Johnny’s family. This was the first time they got to see the photograph. Tears were shed, hugs were given and introductions were made. Johnny again at the heart of a social get together.

It had always been my intention to gift the photograph to the O’Donnell family. So, last Sunday, on what was a beautiful autumnal morning, a small group gathered under the magnificent facia of O’Donnell’s once more. There was two of Johnny’s sisters, Catherine and Marie and his brother Danny. Dee Maher Ring, James Miskella, Sandra Garzon and I were also present.

Some introductions were made, everybody met someone new that day. Again, we took some photos. And again, we lingered for a while, reminiscing this time of sing songs and willy wogs. It was both wonderful and emotional. What amazed me most was that even though Johnny is no longer here, his presence is felt. He is doing what he always did, connecting people.

Thank you to:

The O’Donnell Family
Dee Maher Ring
Michael Holden
James Miskella
Michael Fleming
Sandra Garzon