His 11th book published—and now looking forward to his 85th birthday and 64th wedding anniversary. And all this after having fought off life-threatening injuries.
Truly, Johnny O’Brien is “a bit of a legend”—the words used to describe him by Portlaoise parish priest Mgr John Byrne at a well-attended function in the Parish Centre on Tuesday night (December 17).
The Monsignor was launching Johnny’s latest work, A Trip Down Memory Lane. Packed full of pictures, it, like its predecessors, will lead to many reminiscences and inspire many a conversation.
Johnny’s first book, Glimpses of Portlaoise (part one), came out in 1993. Shortly thereafter, he was seriously hurt in a road accident.
Willpower and the devotion of his wife Maura and family helped to get him back on the road—in a battery-powered wheelchair.
Far and wide he ranged, collecting old photographs, and from these he compiled book after book. He has now donated the photos to the County Library archives, where, no doubt, they will be valuable source material for researchers and historians.
Johnny and Maura will have a double celebration on January 5—his 85h birthday and their 64th wedding anniversary.
“I’m 65 years with her,” Johnny quipped, “and I still can’t get the better of her.”
Among the attendance at the function was Johnny’s brother, Billy. They are the sole surviving members of the O’Brien family which was, and still is, renowned in the transport and newsvendor industries.
Doing a brisk trade selling the new book was Johnny and Maura’s son, Richard, and their granddaughter, Pauline.
Among the old stock present were Peter Ryan and Paddy Connolly. Helping to fly the flag for the younger generation was Mary Rankin, from just across the road. With her was her mother Maureen.
Fr Paddy O’Reilly was there, as were Frs Tom O’Connor and David Vard. Maura’s Fatima committee was well represented.
Launching the new book, Mgr Byrne, paraphrasing Shakespeare, said Johnny had “done Portlaoise and Laois some service.”
The monsignor had no doubt that Johnny’s book would be of perennial interest to historians when they wanted to see what Portlaoise was like in the mid-20th century and early 21st century. The town, he noted, had doubled in size this century.
Every time he opened Johnny’s books, he gained new knowledge of Portlaoise, Mgr Byrne revealed. Recalling the loss of the old SS Peter and Paul’s Church and the Town Hall, he said the latest book gave us cause to preserve our built heritage and environment.
He stressed: “This is a wonderful place to live. This is a good town.”
Mgr Byrne said Johnny had made the best of what he had following his accident. A lesser man might not have done so.
Maybe without that accident, we might not have had all those books, and Johnny might “still be driving buses and making a fortune,” quipped the monsignor.
Johnny thanked everybody for their attendance. He stated: “It gave me great pleasure to do these books. I made enemies with some people. I made friends with some people.”
He said he would have been lost without his granddaughter Pauline who had helped him to compile the book.
“There’s an awful lot of history in the town of Portlaoise,” he pointed out. He spoke of the Worsted Mills, St Fintan’s Hospital and Oldum’s Mill which at one time had employed hundreds of people.
MC at the launch ceremony was former Councillor Tom Jacob. He said: “I feel honoured and privileged to be here. This is Johnny’s 11th book so far. I think the 12th is in the making.”
This Christmas, Portlaoise people were totally spoilt with the choice of books, he added. In addition to Johnny, Pat Critchley and John Dunne also had publications.
A Trip Down Memory Lane is available in local shops.
SCROLL THROUGH THE GALLERY OF PICTURES ABOVE TAKEN BY DENIS BYRNE AT THE LAUNCH.