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Stephen O'Mara

Stephen O'Mara and Ellen Pigott.
Detail of 1905 photo. See larger.

Stephen O'Mara (see here),
Parnellite MP, Free State Senator,
born 26th Dec 1844, Limerick.
His earliest memories were of the Famine 1845-50: "He could remember the faces of hungry men, and people falling in the streets, faint from lack of food" [PAT/1, p.5].
Successful bacon merchant. Started work in his father's company O'Mara's Bacon in 1860, age 15, and over his life helped it grow massively.
Member of radical Fenian (IRB) movement, young recruit 1862.
1925 election leaflet says he was involved in "the movement of '67", i.e. the Fenian Rising of 1867.
[GROI] lists him as "provision merchant", Limerick, at mar.

Stephen mar 1867 to Ellen Pigott [bapt 3 Apr 1845].
[GROI] records (children's births) list him as "provision merchant". His wife worked in the O'Mara family business with him.
They were living Chapel St (beside St.Michael's RC church, Denmark St), Limerick, at Mary's birth 1868 [GROI].
They were living 22 Roches St (the street O'Mara's bacon factory was on), centre of new town, Limerick, as at 1871-80 [children's birth's in [GROI]].
Like his father, he was an early supporter of Isaac Butt's Home Rule movement. Member (with his father) of the famous Butt Committee, which secured Butt's election for Limerick city, in by-election, 20 Sept 1871.
This was not the first Home Rule seat (there were others earlier in 1871), but its first big urban seat, a turning point for them.
In the 1870s and 1880s Stephen went to Liverpool a lot on business [family letters]. Ellen kept the business running in Limerick while he was away.

In 1879 he gave evidence at the murder of one of O'Mara's customers in a mugging. He is not yet described as a councillor.
The murder victim, Michael Maher, a general dealer, age nearly 70, had come from Thurles to Limerick with plenty of cash on his person. He purchased bacon and other goods from O'Mara's on Roches St on Fri 10 Oct 1879, at which time he had a bit of drink taken. That evening he was robbed, beaten and thrown into the Shannon to drown.
Stephen O'Mara gave evidence at identification of the body on Sat 11 Oct. See Irish Times, October 13, 1879.

He pledged his support to the Land League at its founding, Oct 1879. See Irish Times, October 22, 1879.
Stephen and Ellen were living 31 Roches St from at least Nell's birth 1882 to 1886 [family letters]. Living 31 Roches St when he reported death of his 1st cousin Mary Anne Lynch in 1883.

Earlier political career:
He became a Town Councillor (T.C.) on Limerick Corporation. He is listed as Town Councillor for Shannon Ward in [Thoms] at least 1882 to 1898.
While in Limerick Corporation, he successfully opposed the imposition of an RIC tax on the ratepayers. Nationalists were opposed to the RIC.
He is listed as "TC" (Town Councillor) at dinner to celebrate the granting of the Freedom of Limerick to Michael Davitt in 1884. See Politics and Speech by Michael Davitt in [McMahon and Flynn, 1996].

He was Mayor of Limerick 1885 (would be approx calendar year, Jan 1885 - Jan 1886). See the Town Hall, Limerick.
He was the first Mayor of Limerick elected on a Nationalist ticket.
He criticised the running of The Limerick Athenaeum in 1885, saying: "The Athenaeum is for the general benefit of the citizens .. not a closed borough". See Quotations in [McMahon and Flynn, 1996].
While he was Mayor, the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) came to Ireland on a visit (must be the Royal visit to Ireland, 8-27 April 1885). The luggage train was sent on to Limerick in advance. [Pat Lavelle] says: "Grandfather met the train and talked to the equerry in his quiet, friendly way, and explained again quite firmly that there would be no question of a civic welcome. The luggage was not derailed. The Prince of Wales did not visit Limerick. Grandfather had no opportunity to refuse a knighthood and practically nobody knew anything about the incident then or later."
All the poor Limerick lacemakers had made robes, etc, as gift for Queen Victoria's family. [Pat Lavelle] says: "Grandmother felt badly about leaving it in the hands of the poor people who made it" so she bought it off them for her own family.
This is the origin of the O'Mara wedding veil in which many O'Mara daughters and granddaughters have been married (presumably pictured here).
Mayor of Limerick 1886 (second term, would be approx calendar year, Jan 1886 - Jan 1887).

He was a member of the Irish Parliamentary Party (or the Irish Nationalist Party, or the Home Rule party, the 3rd largest party in UK, led by Parnell).
He was an MP 1886: Home Rule MP for Queen's County Ossory (the W section of Co.Laois) 12th Feb - 9th July 1886.
Nominated unopposed 12th Feb 1886 when winner of 4th Dec 1885 general election chose to sit elsewhere.
In a letter home to his wife from the House of Commons, London, 6 Mar 1886 (see House of Commons letterhead) he says: "I am full of fight and rather surprised myself at the capacity of argument I have developed."
In May 1886 he was in London, his 12 yr old son James wrote to him: "Will you send a message when you get Home Rule?"
In one letter to his wife from the House of Commons, 12 May 1886, he writes of domestic affairs and then says "The division bell is ringing, I must be off".
In a letter of 18 May 1886 he says he is staying at 35 Norfolk St, London, where his son James is later found in 1895.
His old friend Fr. Edward Thomas O'Dwyer was appointed Bishop of Limerick in May 1886.
He did NOT practice obstructionism (that was his son James).
He did not stand in 9th July 1886 general election.
In a letter of 27 May 1886 he had said: "the probabilities are, there will be a dissolution and a general election, in that case, I am free, and Ossory will have an opportunity of finding another representative. We will part with mutual feelings of relief and without a regret at either side."
See his contributions to parliament in 1886,

He lived Hartstonge House, Limerick, from 1886 [family letters] to at least 1908 [date on a photo].
Kate Sullivan, the wife of Timothy Daniel Sullivan, Lord Mayor of Dublin, wrote to Ellen, 25 Sept 1886, asking her to join a delegation of the wives of leading Irish nationalists in making a presentation to Gladstone on 4 Oct at Chester, of the "Women of Ireland's declaration in favour of Home Rule". It is later clear that Stephen went to Chester but Ellen did not.
A letter from Stephen survives, written 12 Oct 1886 with letterhead from the Mayor's office, Limerick.

High Sheriff of Limerick city 1888: He was High Sheriff of Limerick City for 1888, succeeding his father.
See appointment reported in Irish Times, December 21, 1887.
He visited America in May-June 1888, went over on the RMS Umbria (Liverpool to New York), got on somewhere before the Queenstown stop, arrived New York on Sun 20 May 1888.
He kept a diary on board ship. He visited Pigott relations in New York. He wrote to his wife: "to me it seems one busy seething mass of human beings in the cities, and in the country there is a vastness and grandeur indescribable." He visited O'Mara relations in Canada.
When he arrived in New York he notes he left his card with Sir Thomas Esmonde, 11th Baronet, who was staying there.

He was imprisoned for a week in Limerick Gaol, around 4 Feb 1889.
[Irish Times, Wed 23 Jan 1889 and Tue 29 Jan 1889 and Sat 2 Feb 1889] describes the prosecution of David Sheehy, MP and other nationalists for conspiracy to prevent new tenants moving into evicted farms.
The charges in particular concerned a series of public meetings held at Castleconnell, first on 20 May 1888, and another on 28 (or 22) Oct 1888. At the latter 1500-2000 people were there, including O'Mara. Speeches were made. It was charged that these meetings were to intimidate a tenant who was moving into an evicted farm. He was denounced at these meetings and afterwards abandoned the farm.
The case was held at Castleconnell, Mon 28 Jan 1889. "Among others in court were ... Mr. Stephen O'Meara, High Sheriff". The prosecutor was a Mr. Morphy. Sheehy sentenced on Tue 29 Jan. No record of sentence for O'Mara.
[Lavelle, 1961] had a different story - that Stephen was summoned to court before Ballyneety Petty Sessions, with Edward Carson as prosecutor. He was asked as a Crown witness to disclose what was said at a meeting of the Irish Party leaders at which Parnell presided. He refused, and was jailed. This does not fit with what the newspaper says though.
His obituary said he was jailed "under the Forster regime" (William Edward Forster, Chief Secretary for Ireland 1880-82, died 1886). This also does not fit.
He was NOT jailed any other known time.
A letter survives from him to his wife from jail, 4 Feb 1889. He does not want her to see him in jail because he thinks it will stress her, "Many thanks for your loving letter, and still more for your self-sacrifice in not coming to see me." He says he is being treated very well.

Alderman of Limerick. He is listed as "provision merchant and Alderman" at Kat's birth Sept 1889 [GROI].
He was made one of the 3 trustees of the Irish Parliamentary Party funds 1890.
When Irish Parliamentary Party split over Parnell in 1890-91, he remained loyal to Parnell.
He met Parnell after his fall, alone at a railway station, with no one to meet him, "who but a year before, had been the idol of thousands" [Lavelle, 1961].
He was at Parnell's deathbed in Brighton, 6th Oct 1891, "and was one of the Members who accompanied his coffin to Dublin".
After the Parnell split, he remained as trustee of Irish Parliamentary Party funds, devoted himself to the reunion of Nationalist forces (which occurred under Redmond in 1900).
He was a friend of William Abraham, many letters from Abraham survive.

After the Parnell split, Stephen continued as Town Councillor (now Alderman) on Limerick Corporation, and bacon merchant.
He is listed as "Alderman" at his brother Jim's death and funeral 1893.
"Stephen O'Mara" sp bapt of his niece Nora O'Mara 1897.
"Ellen O'Mara" sp bapt of her niece Susan O'Mara 1898.
He is listed as Alderman for Shannon Ward, Limerick, in [Thoms, 1898].
He was re-elected to Limerick City Council Jan 1899.
[Modern Ireland, 1899] describes him as head of O'Mara's bacon company, and says he was also a member of the Limerick Harbour Commissioners, a Limerick Poor Law Guardian, a Governor of Barrington's Hospital and St.John's Fever Hospital, and a Trustee of the Limerick Savings Bank.
He is listed as "Alderman" at time of his son James' election as an MP 1900.

See entry at Hartstonge House in [Census, 1901]. He is listed as "bacon merchant", two servants living with the family. The house has 13 rooms, 10 windows in front of house, with 2 coal cellars as out-buildings.
He attended Dr. David Humphreys' funeral 1903 (their families knew each other, but they were not yet joined by marriage). He is listed as "Alderman".
He purchased Donnelly's bacon factory, Dublin, 1906.
He was one of the promoters of the Munster-Connaught Exhibition, Limerick, 1906.
President of Limerick Chamber of Commerce.
He resigned trusteeship of Home Rule Party funds 1908, broadly agreeing with his son James' recent move to Sinn Fein. Alfred Webb writes to him about his resignation, 11 Apr 1908.
Stephen and Ellen moved c.1909 to Strand House, Limerick. A date on a photo suggests they were still at Hartstonge House in 1908. There was a suggestion they moved to Strand House in 1908, but the source for this is uncertain. They were living Strand House as at 1910.

Ellen dies, 1910:
She died of cancer, Strand House, 26th Oct 1910, age 65 yrs,
bur 26 Oct at Mount St. Lawrence cemetery, Limerick.
See death notice, Irish Times, October 27, 1910.

Stephen is listed at Strand House in [Census, 1911]. He is "chairman of bacon factory". His widowed daughter Mary Rynne is there with him.

High Sheriff of Limerick city 1913 and 1914: He was High Sheriff of Limerick City for 1913 and 1914.
He is described as "City High Sheriff" at funeral of William de Courcy 1 May 1915.
His grand-dau Pat Lavelle in [PAT/1, p.4] recalled him as "slight and finely made with a reddish beard and grey blue eyes that saw a lot." He "owned a broughm and a dogcart and a sidecar". His grandchildren used to love riding in the sidecar over the cobbled streets of Limerick.

Later political career:
Stephen co-founded the Irish National League 1916, as an alternative to Home Rule party in response to the 1916 Rising.
His son James helped persuade the Irish National League to merge with Sinn Fein 1917-18.
In Apr 1917 he was elected member of organizing committee of the National Council to put Ireland's case before proposed post-war Peace Conference (which did not happen until Jan 1919).
In Apr 1918, during WW1, there was an attempt to introduce conscription to Ireland. "It was a common belief in our family that grandfather was approached at this time, and offered a baronetcy if he would support conscription - and that he refused the offer" [Lavelle, 1961].
"Just prior to the General Elections of 1918" [Dec 1918] "when the Irish Party were so signally defeated by Sinn Fein, Mr.O'Mara had espoused the latter side in politics, and to use his own words, he 'broke with life long ties', giving all his support and encouragement to the new movement, subscribing to its funds with his usual characteristic liberality".

See Apr 1921 interview, during the War of Independence.
In May 1921, in a time of great strain, his son James was attempting to resign from his position in the US. Stephen would not hear of it: "Tell Jim not to stab his country in the hour of her agony. I am hurt beyond words". But his son, for once, would not listen to him.
He lived to see Irish independence.
On 5th Dec 1921, De Valera was staying the night in Strand House, as the Treaty was being signed in London.
Talking in the drawing room, Dev asked: "I have always wanted to know, Mr. O'Mara, what you thought of Parnell". Stephen: "I'll tell you what I thought of Parnell - if he and I were walking across Sarsfield Bridge together and he said to me jump in the river I would jump in".
He was strongly pro-Treaty.
He is described as an "ex-Alderman" in his son's biography, 1923.
He was called 'the Governor' as a pet name by his own family.
He lived to see the 4th generation, see picture 1924.
Free State Senator from Sept 1925 to death July 1926.
See cover and body of his election leaflet to Free State Senate for the Sept 1925 election.
He lived to see one great-grandchild, Ruaire Lavelle (born 1924).

Stephen dies, 1926:
He died Mon 26th July 1926, Limerick, age 81 yrs.
Obituary describes him as "head" of O'Mara's bacon company, says he was walking at mid-day from his office in Limerick to Strand House when he collapsed, taken home and died.
[Muffie de Courcy] said he collapsed coming over Sarsfield Bridge (the bridge leading to Strand House).
See obituary and photo in Irish Times, July 27, 1926.
Report in Irish Times, July 28, 1926, says the flag is at half mast at Limerick town hall, and notes messages of sympathy from W.T. Cosgrave, Sir Thomas Esmonde, 11th Baronet, Mary MacSwiney and Cardinal O'Donnell (a fellow trustee of Irish Parliamentary Party funds).
Funeral Wed 28 July, bur Mount St. Lawrence cemetery, Limerick.
Funeral attendance included De Valera, William Redmond, Thomas Westropp Bennett, Patrick Clancy, James Ledden, John Nolan, and the Mayor of Limerick and many other local and national politicians.
Report in Irish Times, July 30, 1926, notes message of sympathy from David Keane, Bishop of Limerick.
Funeral list in Limerick Weekly Echo, 31st July, obituary in Limerick Echo, 31st July.
(todo) See The Times, 21 Mar 1927, p.17, which says he left a personal estate in the UK of £42,669 (perhaps £10m in today's money).
Stephen and Ellen had issue:

  1. Mary O'Mara,
    born 8 May 1868, Chapel St, Limerick [GROI],
    bapt Maria, 10 May 1868 [St.John's, Limerick],
    a letter survives to her mother from her father (who has just gone to Kilkee), July 1872, which mentions her existence: "I was thinking all along the way that Mary was sick from all she cried yesterday and you may be sure I blamed myself for being the cause of it.",
    died of diphtheria [NOT typhoid], Roches St, Limerick, 22 Sept 1872 [GROI], age 4 yrs,
    bur Mount St. Lawrence cemetery, Limerick.

  2. Patrick O'Mara,
    Paddy, born 22 Mar 1870 [family bible],
    can't find birth in [GROI],
    bapt 24 Mar 1870 [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    died of diphtheria, Roches St, Limerick, 11 Oct 1872 [GROI], [family bible], or 8 Oct 1872 [grave], [P40/190], age 2 yrs,
    bur Mount St. Lawrence cemetery, Limerick.

  3. James O'Mara,
    Jim, born 11 Nov 1871, Roches St, Limerick [GROI],
    bapt 12 Nov 1871 [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    died of diphtheria, Roches St, Limerick, 8 Oct 1872 [GROI], [family bible], or 11 Oct 1872 [grave], [P40/190], age 11 months,
    bur Mount St. Lawrence cemetery, Limerick.

    As at mid-Sept 1872 they had 3 children.
    One month later they had none. All three children were dead.

  4. (other child) O'Mara,
    died immediately after birth.
    See notes in [P40/190]. This lists the 3 children who died in 1872, and their ages at death, and then has "(illegible name) died immediately after birth". Name looks like "Angel". Maybe the baby was never named.

  5. James O'Mara,
    Jim [second James], James Mary,
    born 6th Aug 1873, Limerick,
    bapt 8 Aug 1873 [St.Michael's, Limerick], sp Andrew Lynch and Margaret O'Mara.

  6. Fr. Paddy O'Mara, S.J. [second Patrick],
    Patrick Joseph O'Mara,
    [family bible] says Patrick Mary O'Mara, every other sibling had Mary as first or middle name,
    born 13th Mar 1875, Roches St, Limerick [GROI],
    bapt 15th Mar [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    Martin J. O'Mara writes from Canada in June 1875: "I am ... still prouder to hear we have one Pat in the family anyhow may he live long to enjoy the name." (perhaps insensitive because they already had a child Patrick who died, this second Patrick lived until 1969),
    a letter of May 1881 survives from his father (in Limerick with some of the children) to his mother (away in Dublin): "poor Paddy cried last night when saying goodnight to me and when I asked him what ailed him, he blubbered more and said he wanted his Mama."

  7. Mary O'Mara [second Mary], "Aunt Moll",
    born Limerick, 11 June 1876 [family bible],
    can't find birth in [GROI], NOT Mary Ellen, Limerick, 1876,
    bapt Mary, 12 June 1876 [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    see picture 1890,
    educ for a time with the nuns of Sacrè Coeur at Highgate, London, c.1894,
    mar 1 Sept 1898, St.Michael's, Limerick [GROI]
    to Dr. Michael Rynne [possible descendant of Edward I] and had issue.

  8. Joe O'Mara [Joseph Mary], "Uncle Joe",
    born 21st May 1878, 22 Roches St, Limerick [GROI],
    bapt 22nd May [St.Michael's, Limerick].

  9. Norrie O'Mara,
    Nora, Nonie, Noney, think NOT Norah,
    "Hanora Mary" in [family bible],
    born "Nora Mary", 3rd Mar 1880, 22 Roches St, Limerick [GROI],
    bapt "Honora Mary", 4th Mar [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    her name comes from Nora, NOT from Noreen, although her daughter is definitely Noreen,
    must be named after her grandmother Hanora Foley who had just died 1878,
    see picture 1890,
    educ for a time with the nuns of Sacre Coeur at Highgate, London, c.1894,
    wit Mary's mar 1898,
    Pat Lavelle's notes mention a dance in Hartstonge House, Christmas 1902, "to celebrate the engagement of one of my aunts" - this must be Norrie,
    she was living Hartstonge House at mar,
    mar 26th Apr 1904, St.Joseph's, Limerick [GROI] to Dr. Bill O'Sullivan and had issue.

  10. Nell O'Mara,
    Ellen, Nelly,
    born "Ellen Mary", 6 June 1882, 31 Roches St, Limerick [GROI],
    bapt "Mary", 7 June 1882 [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    [family bible] incorrectly says born 13 June,
    see picture 1890,
    think educ Highgate, London also (like her sisters),
    she was living Strand House at mar,
    mar 1910 to Jim Sullivan [born 6 January 1870] and had issue.

  11. Stephen O'Mara,
    of Strand House, Limerick (his father's house),
    born 5 Jan 1884, 31 Roches St, Limerick [GROI], or 4 Jan 1884 [family bible],
    bapt "Stephen Mary", 5 Jan 1884 [St.Michael's, Limerick], NOT 1886,
    his father writes in a letter to his mother, Oct 1886: "Stephen loves me "that big much", but his arms are not long enough to show how much he loves his Mama. Your own Stout",
    see picture 1890.

  12. Phons O'Mara,
    Alphonsus, Phonso, Phonsie,
    born 13 Oct 1887, Hartstonge House, Limerick [GROI],
    [family bible] is wrong to say 1886,
    bapt "Alphonsus Mary", 13 Oct 1887 [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    see picture 1890.

  13. Kat O'Mara,
    Kathleen Mary, born 9th Sept 1889, Hartstonge House, Limerick [GROI],
    NOT Katherine or Catherine,
    bapt 14th Sept [St.Michael's, Limerick],
    see picture 1890,
    not at home in census 1901, maybe at boarding school,
    see picture 1910,
    mar 1917 to Billie de Courcy and had issue.

The Irish Parliamentary Party, April 1886 (when Stephen O'Mara was an MP).
Image courtesy of Cork Multitext Project, UCC (see here). Used with permission.
Originally from Illustrated London News, 10 April 1886.


Stephen O'Mara, his wife and children, must be 1890 (by age of Kat).
Back (Left to Right): Joe, Paddy, Mary, James.
Middle: Nell, Norrie, Stephen O'Mara, Ellen Pigott.
Front: Phons (born Oct 1887), Kat (born Sept 1889), Stephen.

The house where Parnell died in 1891, 10 Walsingham Terrace, Hove, Brighton.
Stephen O'Mara was at his deathbed.
Walsingham Terrace was what is now the stretch of Kingsway between Carlisle Road and Walsingham Road (see map). It is now re-developed.
The Parnell house is gone, but there is a plaque on the apartment block at the site. See street view of plaque.
Image from here at English Heritage.

Baptism of James O'Mara, 8 Aug 1873 [St.Michael's, Limerick].


Apr 1921 interview of Stephen O'Mara

In Apr 1921, during the War of Independence, Stephen O'Mara was interviewed by the British writer Wilfrid Ewart.
This was published in A Journey in Ireland 1921, Wilfrid Ewart, published Apr 1922.
See p.85 and pp.86-87 and p.88 and p.92 and p.94 and p.96.

Stephen O'Mara's son, the younger Stephen O'Mara, the new Mayor of Limerick, had just been arrested, on the morning of this interview.
Ewart quotes old Stephen O'Mara as saying, looking back on the last 5 years: "The rising of 1916 gave a new soul to Ireland; she found her soul that day."
Old Stephen O'Mara says that if a settlement is reached: "Ireland can be counted on as a loyal friend. England, you must bear in mind, is our natural market for eggs, butter, bacon, cattle, and linen. We might find other markets for ourselves, but England is the natural one and always will be."

Wilfrid Ewart describes old Stephen O'Mara: "One of the most temperate and broad-minded men I came across in the South was Mr. S. O'Mara ... Of him it was said by a British officer, "If all Sinn Feiners were like O'Mara, this Irish question would soon be settled.""



Pictures of Stephen O'Mara


"Dear Nell, You are a goose .. to imagine it possible that I do not care for you as much this year as last. ... I thought you understood me so well, you could see that the world gives me no joys, unless shared with you, and no trouble, sorrow or affliction affects me when I have you to comfort and console me. I love you so well, that I can imagine nothing that would cause me a sigh as long as God leaves you to me, unless it be the loss of your love or regard. ... I am still unworthy of so good a wife. ... You are my first, my only, and my last love please God. Your own Stout"
- Nice letter from Stephen O'Mara to his wife, July 1875.

"I have been just a little lonesome not after the children for I don't miss them, does your heart tell you who I am lonesome after and who I am longing to give the shelter of my arms to."
- Amusing letter from Stephen O'Mara in Limerick to his wife in Kilkee, 1876.
I think every parent of small children can sympathise with his honesty!

"I have got a letter" [when ship stopped at Queenstown] "from my dear wife, full of cheerfulness, sanguine and hopeful, so like herself, unselfish. I know she forced herself to write in that strain, for she always loved her Stout, ... I wonder what would become of me if I had not met her, most likely an early death, for I had no good in me when she married me and whatever is in me now, is due to her gentle and long influence"
- Diary of Stephen O'Mara on board ship on his trip to America, 1888.

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