January 31, 2013

Billy O'Connor - Obituary

Billy O’Connor was one of those special people who give so much to a community organisation that they can truly be called its heart and soul. In Billy’s case it was the Curragh Chess Club of which he was a founder, and where his thirty-odd years of membership were characterised by activity, generosity and an infectiously lively spirit.

He was the indispensable secretary in the club’s early years, willingly taking on the role of home-match organiser, team captain and general all-rounder in addition to his duties as record-keeper and correspondent. Chess is a sedentary game, but only in the sense that the players are seated; and a team captain has to be both fighter for his club and diplomat in relations with other teams and the provincial governing body. Billy slipped into these roles as easily as a hand fits into a well-worn glove, and he won the respect of all his club members by his abiding sense of fairness, a full measure of good-humour and the vital encouragement that every team needs now and again.

Like any good player, he was a formidable opponent over the board, and he rejoiced in a well-fought game especially one that ended in victory. As the club became a regular competitor in the Leinster Leagues, Billy found a new vocation, one that was to leave a special legacy to the children of the Curragh, Brownstown, Newbridge, Kilmeague, Robertstown, Milltown, Kildare and Kilcullen. He became a teacher. For several years, he taught chess in the Curragh’s junior section; and even though this demanded that he give more of his time, free of charge, to other people, he took on the work with enthusiasm. Several of those whom he coached went on to become formidable players in their own right and distinguish themselves in the Leinster Leagues. Billy’s teaching was done without fanfare or publicity: he worked away at the task and asked for nothing better than that the children would succeed. The legacy did not end there however: for chess is a game that teaches concentration, application, patience and self-discipline. None of us will ever know how much these traits which he encouraged in his pupils contributed afterwards to success in the lives of his young students, but there can be little doubt of the value of the gift that he gave them or the generosity of spirit that impelled him. And all that generous giving was done quietly, almost anonymously, by a man who lived unobtrusively in Newbridge.

Billy spent most of his working life in the signal corps of the defence forces. It is not immediately evident where the crossover points between his work and his personal life were, but

his orderly and disciplined mind and his well-organised approach to everything that he did served him well in both capacities.

Chess players were always welcome in Billy’s house in Cedarwood Park, and his wife Irene was a willing participant in their reception. No game of chess could be played in their sitting room without a mandatory cup of tea or coffee (regularly topped up), and biscuits too of course. They made a wonderful pair, sometimes outdoing one another in their cheerful greetings and sense of humour. And all the, then, children followed the good example of their parents with friendly welcomes and greetings.

Billy suffered a disabling stroke in 2000, and even though it limited his mobility quite severely and meant no more golf – a real penance for him – he bore his illness well. It frustrated him quite a lot sometimes; but like the good soldier that he was, he would never surrender while there was a fighting chance. He played chess like that too.

Thanks Billy: for so many good games, for such good company and for what you taught us all by your life and your work.


Billy O’Connor died on 4 January 2013.

Posted by mmcloughlin at January 31, 2013 06:05 PM