Leo Dempsey's contribution to Portarlington

Leo Dempsey's contribution to Portarlington

Leo wasn’t a man for any fuss and he never sought the limelight but it would be wrong to let the sad occasion of his death pass without a few words about his contribution to the community of Portarlington.

Leo played an active part in several aspects of community life including nearly forty years working in Odlum’s Mill and some years as a volunteer in the Credit Union and on other committees but I would like to refer particularly to his role in the provision and running of the swimming pool and leisure centre.

If the history of Portarlington Swimming Pool ever comes to be written Leo Dempsey’s name will feature very prominently in it.

Leo joined the committee of Portarlington Swimming Pool Association over forty five years ago and was involved in every aspect of the Association’s work during all those years. He was at different times secretary and chairman and for the past few years a life member. He was also one of the first directors of the new leisure centre. He spent a successful season as manager of the pool and many days doing relief work during the manager’s days off.

He often went in to the plant room in the morning on his way to work in Odlum’s to check the level of pool chemicals. He had a great knowledge of the working of the pumps and boilers and all the equipment in the plant room and with the expert help of our good friend Wesley Dempsey ensured there was never a breakdown. I remember one Sunday when I was on duty in the pool and found the chlorine wasn’t feeding in properly. I rang Leo who was watching a match on television, Leo rang Wesley who was playing golf and in less than an hour the problem was solved.

While we gratefully acknowledge the help of Laois County Council it would not be an exaggeration to say that without Leo’s work we would not have the present seven million euro leisure centre. Leo used to call in and ask me for a sentence to start a letter to the Minister for Local Government or the Minister for Sport when we were looking for funding for an upgrading of the pool. We’d then sit down and compose the letter and Leo always sent a copy to each of the TD’s in Laois/Offaly. This led to questions being asked in the Dáil and to the eventual building of the fine facility we now have. Without that pressure it would not have happened.

I thank Seán Quirke, the manager of the Leisure Centre and his staff for forming a guard of honour in their uniforms during the removal to the church and for closing the centre during the funeral Mass. We also had a minute’s silence during the weekly bingo session.

When Leo undertook anything he put his heart and soul into it. He was always calm, even when things weren’t going well and he just got on with whatever had to be done. Portarlington was lucky that such a dedicated group of people came together and laboured long and hard to provide and run the swimming pool. It was a privilege to work with people like Alo Donegan, Paddy Earley, Liam Hynan and Billy Kenna. I said at Paddy Burbage’s funeral that we were a good team and Paddy was a great captain. Leo Dempsey was certainly a key team member. It was always a pleasure to work with him and I greatly valued his friendship and his good humour and his wisdom.

Leo was above all else a family man. He and Geraldine brought up two fine sons and he was proud of them and of all his grandchildren. I would like Geraldine and Hubert and Leo and his brother and sisters but especially his grandchildren to realise the important part he played in the life of this community and the respect we all had for him. The most common sentence I heard about Leo since his death was “He was a true gentleman”.

We will miss you, Leo but we are all better for having known you. May you rest in peace.

Niall McElwaine