Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Images courtesy of Mary O’Neill.

One of Ringsend’s most endearing residents, Michael (Micko) O’Neill, passed away on October 29th. Micko was well-known to everyone in the area and loved by most who met him, that is apart from sporting rivals, I’m sure.

Born in 1921, in Fitzwilliam Street, Ringsend, during his lifetime he witnessed a remarkable transformation both of Ireland and the wider world. He took change in his stride and would tell you himself, he had a wonderful life.He was an intelligent man, who defined himself by things that he loved rather than things that displeased him. This made him great fun to be with. Time spent with Micko was a masterclass in how to be happy and live life to the max. He was most passionate about his late wife Eileen (Nelly) and his daughter Mary, whom he adored. He was so proud of her, her son Ryan and her husband John.

After that, in no particular order, Micko loved theatre, film, singing, singers, songs, storytelling, any kind of sport, word games, current affairs, film stars of the 40’s 50’s and 60’s, newspapers, recalling the happy years he spent in the army, Shamrock Rovers FC., the Irish football team, and of course his beloved St Patrick’s Rowing Club. As the club’s oldest member he was held in high esteem by his club mates, who became constant visitors when he moved to Ailsbury Nursing Home on Park Avenue. He could recall ‘The Paddy’s’ first regatta and its many triumphs and occasional disasters after that.

To mark his 90th birthday, a bench – with a fine view of the river – was installed in the grounds of the club. Club members formed a very impressive guard of honour at his funeral and did him proud in the green that he loved so much.
Right to the end, Micko read the newspapers cover to cover every day. He knew more than most about what was going on in the world and had strong opinions about the things that matter; “that bloody incinerator” was a particular topic that would make his blood boil.

But he didn’t dwell on the negative things in life, choosing instead to be cheerful; playing his word games, supporting his teams and keeping up with their progress, and entertaining his many visitors and friends at the home.
He filled his days with singing, storytelling and with recollections of the good times he had in Dublin as it moved from the hardship endured after WW2, to a gradual upswing in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.That was when he loved to dress to the nines and go to the theatre or to a film with Nelly. He most enjoyed when his favourite performers came to town for a premiere or a holiday and would go out of his way to see them as they came and went to their hotel or to the “picture house.” In his time he saw some of the greatest stars the world has ever known, including John Wayne, Judy Garland, James Cagney, Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, to name but a few.You could say he came away with some of their showbiz style. A renowned singer who knew many songs, he didn’t have to be asked twice to perform. A particular favourite was Let Me Call You Sweetheart, a song he sang as if he meant every word of it.

When his beloved Nelly passed away in the same year that he retired from Irish Glass Bottle Factory, where he had worked for 35 years, Micko was heartbroken. He survived and eventually recovered by volunteering at St Patrick’s Church, where he soon became the priests’ right hand man, a role that he enjoyed for 15 years.Following a fall and a long spell in hospital, he moved into the Ailesbury Nursing Home, Sandymount, over three years ago. He was very happy there. Mary saw him almost every day and anyone who spent time with the two of them will tell you, you could feel the love flow between them like a strong electric current. They would finish each other’s stories, jog each other’s memories and laugh uproariously at each other’s jokes. Mary spoke very movingly and amusingly at her father’s funeral, celebrating the unique person that he was and the love that they shared.

As his funeral mass ended, his good friend Fr. Ivan Tonge surprised the congregation by playing a recent recording of Micko singing Let Me Call You Sweetheart, a gesture that would have appealed to the consummate performer that he was. His voice may not have been as strong as it would once have been, but the sweetness was unmistakable.
When the song ended, there was a pause. In the silence that followed people no doubt recalled their own private memories of the wonderful, humorous man that they had known.Until their reverie was interrupted by what can only be described as a perfect showbiz moment, with Micko huskily enquiring in his distinctive Dublin brogue “Well, did ye like that?”

We certainly did Micko, we certainly did!

by Jennifer reddin