Riobard O’Dwyer

The Society has always sought to acknowledge the work of those who contributed to the development of family history in Cork. Riobard O’Dwyer, without doubt, belongs in this category. His contribution was unique and invaluable and its importance increases with the passing of the years. The loss of the most valuable Irish genealogical archives, consequent on the fire and explosion at the National Archives in 1922, is one of the first discoveries made by those who start to research a family history. Though much work has been done to mitigate the losses, the default reaction seems to be anger, disillusionment and regret, because the loss is irreparable. In contrast, Riobard seems to have been spurred into action by the dearth of genealogical records. He had become acutely aware of another source of family history, quite distinct from archival records: the memories of the people. Hardly a new discovery, you might say, don’t all family historians start off by questioning elderly relatives. Riobard’s great contribution was to collect genealogical information not just from his own relatives to create his own family history, but from everybody in his home place. First, he concentrated on his own parish of Eyeries. He published his first book in 1976: Who were My Ancestors, in which the information gathered from the ordinary people of the parish was supplemented by the parish registers and information from the graveyards. Recognising the value of this most constantly diminishing source, he set about repeating the work he started in Eyeries, in all the other parishes on the Beara Peninsula: Adrigole, Allihies, Castletown and Glengariffe. His work was recently republished in a three volume collection entitled Annals of Beara. Riobard was also a well known sportsman. He was a talented Gaelic footballer and had the unequalled record of being all-Ireland hop, step and jump champion (now known as “triple jump”) five years in a row (1952-1956). He was also a prize winning musician and played his accordion at many venues up and down the Beara Peninsula and also abroad in Liverpool, London and Boston. All of his talents were used to further his genealogical work. People admired Riobard for his sporting prowess and were only too pleased to talk to him about their family history. He often described his accordion as a genealogical tool: the people came to hear him play and stayed to chat about their families afterwards. Riobard’s contribution to genealogy was recognised by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the oldest and biggest genealogical society in the United States by acquiring his papers for their archive. The whole parish turned out for Riobard’s funeral, which was more a celebration of his life than a very sad occasion, as he had lived well beyond three score and ten years.  In years gone by, Riobard had recorded several songs, accompanying himself on his accordion. As his four sons carried the coffin out of the church at the end of the service, Riobard was singing "Danny Boy"; over the public address system. Ní bheidh a leithéad ann arís; ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. 

Tony McCarthy

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