For a man relatively small in stature, John Frank O’Reilly was a big person. He was a man of many parts. His business acumen was renowned, his love of his family and his county well-known and his passion for the GAA was the stuff of legend.
The north Longford native and pioneering businessman passed away last Tuesday evening at the age of 87, and in a fitting testament to this much-loved character, large crowds attended both his removal and Funeral Mass three days later.
Described by long time friend John Murphy as an individual of almost legendary status, Mr Murphy pointed to John Frank’s unflappable determination and affable nature as just two of the reason’s behind his success in life.
“He was an extremely shrewd man and a great judge of character,” Mr Murphy told mourners inside a crowded St Mary’s Church on Friday morning.
“It is testament to his ability as a businessman that O’Reilly Insurance is one of the few financial businesses that started in the 60s that is still in existence to this day.”
John Frank founded of O’Reilly Insurance on Dublin Street, Longford over 50 years ago but his introduction to commerce came much earlier.
As the eldest of seven, John Frank spent much if his early days getting days helping out on the family farm in Carrickadorish in Aughnacliffe.
Like his six siblings, he attended St Patrick’s National School and Latin School in Moyne followed.
But as was the case for so many families during the economic malaise of 1940s and ‘50s Ireland, the O’Reilly’s were hit by emigration.
John Frank bode an emotional farewell to three of his brothers during this period, all of whom opted for the shores of the United States in search of employment.
Back home, John Frank set his sights on mapping out his own career path. In May 1946, the New Ireland Assurance Company gave the likeable Longford man his first break, appointing John Frank as a sales agent.
His task, was perhaps for some an onerous one-selling life insurance around the hills of Colmcille and Dromard on a push bike. Despite the physical demands of the role, John Frank’s friendly manner and acute business sense paid the richest and most deserving of dividends.
In 1957, John Frank snapped up the then Jack Flanagan’s unisex hairdressers and confectionary store along the county town’s popular Dublin Street.
Young and enthusiastic, John Frank set about making his mark in the insurance business. The following, he married his wife Winnifred (nee Brady). The pair settled in the Ballymacormack part of Longford town where they raised their four children Joe and Sean and daughters Anne and Mary.
In 1972, John Frank became the Longford agent for the Irish Permanent Building Society and the business continued to thrive under his watchful eye.
It was an achievement which led congregation members to be told at last Friday’s funeral proceedings: “He came a long way from cycling around north Longford knocking on doors wondering if anyone was at home.”
Outside of his day-to-day comings and goings, John Frank immersed himself in community life, becoming a key member of the Longford Festival Committee, Chamber of Commerce and his other great love St Vincent de Paul.
In an interview with this newspaper in 1999, the proud Aughnacliffe man summed up his appreciation for the voluntary body, which he first joined 30 years earlier.
“It (SVP) is a truly remarkable organisation which has given me an insight into the hardships of the less fortunate in Longford,” he explained succinctly.
Though undeniably important, volunteering was just one of the many pastimes which John Frank enjoyed. He was a loyal follower of the GAA and a familiar face at local games over the years. At his funeral on Friday, a picture of the Connolly Cup was brought to the altar as part of the offetory gifts. His trusty insurance journal, a familiar sight to many of his customers, was also brought to the altar.
John Frank was also a religious person and he took particular delight in making the annual pilgrimage to Knock. In 1973, he made his first trip to Lourdes, a voyage which became an annual pilrgrimage of his for many years thereafter.
His funeral mass was concelebrated by Fr Francis Hanlon and Fr Francis Hanlon, and graveside prayers in Ballymacormack Cemetery were led by Bishop Colm O’Reilly as hundreds of worshippers paid a fitting and poignant farewell to the much loved entrepreneur.
In an emotional send off, his long time friend, John Murphy recalled a brief exchange the two had earlier that same week.
“He just said people have been good,” he told those in attendance. “My reply was: ‘John Frank, you have been good to an awful lot of people.....heaven will never be the same again.”
John Frank O’Reilly is survived by loving sons Joe and Sean, daughters Anne and Mary daughter-in-law Sarah, sons-in-law Joe and John, grandchildren Ciara, Aoife, Tara, Katie, Laoise, Shauna, brother Brian, sister Sister Leo, brother-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews, nieces, cousins, relatives and many good friends.
May he rest in peace.