Castleknock College Union

Canadian O'Neill Reunion

Canada trip

Sep 30, 2003
Canadian O'Neill Reunion -

pictured: Michael O'Byrne (1946-50)

A mini Knock re-union took place in August '03 in Calgary, Alberta, when Fr Sam Clyne CM (.'46 - 52) was 'the recuperative guest' of Dermot (Danno) O'Neill ('45 - 51) and his wife Sheila (nee McMullan) We were joined by Walter O'Donoghue ('44 - 50), Frank Casey ('45 - 50) and Michael O'Byme ('44 - 50). Gracious hospitality, friendship and well-stocked memories and wine cellar prompted most interesting and enjoyable reminisces of what were, undoubtedly, some of the 'golden times' in Knock. The dominant tone of the gathering was one of happy and worthwhile experiences of our Alma Mater and gratitude and affection for the Vincentians, the teachers and our fellow students. A Sunday lunch with Walter and Shirley O'Donoghue in their home in Canmore was a delightful highlight of my visit and helped to reconnect so many memory circuits across a wide range of topics. Sunday Masses, which I celebrated in the Parish and in the nearby Franciscan Monastery, were special to Dermot, Sheila and myself and, on occasions, other family members.

Dermot went to great lengths to ensure that my trip to Calgary would be beneficial for body and soul. He lives outside Calgary on a 40-acre property surrounded by ranches and under big skies'. Deer regularly passed through the grounds and, at night, coyotes could be heard nearby. His home is beautifully situated to afford 'easy walks' through the surrounding countryside. Then,he arranged for wonderful trips to Montana's Waterton Lakes National Parks and Alberta's Banff and Jasper National Parks and provided expert commentary and care on each trip. The beauty and rugged wildness of the mountains, lakes rivers and waterfalls were awesome in every sense of that word. It was exciting to get really close to bears (black, brown and grisly), elk, moose, mountain sheep and goats in their natural habitats. Twice we had to forego walks because of bears on the trails. The extant Glaciers in Montana and Alberta were stunning in their beauty and history. Whilst 'we' gingerly ventured onto to the edges of them I was spellbound by their origin and beauty. Over the past hundred years, however, they have been rapidly retreating.

The trips also afforded me the opportunity to catch up with Dermot's sons, David, Shane and Ian, whom I knew from a former visit to the family when they lived near San Francisco, California. Phyllis, their mother, died later in Saudi Arabia where they were living during one of Dermot's assignments with the Arabian Bechtel Company. David ('76 - 81) and Ian ( '77 - 81) both attended Castleknock. David, a Geophysicist, and Debbie (nee Le Blanc) and Ian, a High School teacher, and Tammy (nee Lucash) are married and live in Calgary. Shane, an IT expert, and Laurie (nee Burcock) live in Surrey, (near Vancouver) British Columbia, with their children Katie and Kirsten. During my visit I was privileged to officiate at the nuptials of Ian and Tammy My visit was enhanced and made thoroughly enjoyable by the different assemblies of the entire Canadian clan of O'Neills. David and Ian are both Iron Man and Triathalon competitors. Their father adds to his remarkable fitness through sharing in their swimming exercises. The recall by David and Ian of their years in Castleknock brought home to me the mixture of stability and change which characterises the life of any College and adds to the validity of the saying: "tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis".

During the last week of my visit Vincent O'Neill ('55 - 62), whilst on a promotion trip to Eastern States of the USA for his company Heritage Knitwear, Castlebar, came over to Calgary to visit his brother Dermot. His visit was greatly appreciated by Dermot and Sheila. Fraternal interactions gave rise to enjoyable and interesting insights into the history of the eight O'Neill brothers and their family record as calculated in Castleknock years'. Vincent brought a discerning and keen naturalist's eye to the wonders of the Canadian countryside thereby adding to the enjoyment of trips and walks. I was privileged to share in this family reunion. Given the proud swimming record of the O'Neill family, I must record that Dermot did brave the icy waters of the Canadian lakes to uphold the family's fame and honour and prove something to the next generation. To Dermot and Sheila, whose innate kindness and thoughtfulness ensured that I received and thoroughly enjoyed every care and comfort in their lovely home in Cherry Valley Court. In return I can only extend that loveliest of old Irish compliments: "Ni mor liom mo mheas na do dhuthracht ar mo shon" My appreciation and respect for you is only surpassed by your care and consideration for me.


Frank came to Castleknock in 1945 and after leaving in 1950 he attended UCD and King's Inns. He was called to the Bar in 1954 and practiced in Dublin and on the Northeast Circuit until 1956 when he left for Canada. He spent two years with an insurance company in Toronto and then transferred as Claims Manager to Vancouver in 1956. In 1960 he joined one of the major law firms in Calgary, Alberta as an articling student. In 1961 he was called to the Alberta Bar, continued with the same firm and was admitted to partnership in 1966. He became a member of the firm's Litigation Department concentrating mostly on Insurance Law. In 1980 Frank became a Queen's Counsel and retired from practice a few years ago. In 1958 he married Ann Hart and they have three children


Michael joined in the Calgary re-union. He was delighted to meet with contemporaries from his days in college. His memories of those times are still fresh and cherished. He epitomises Knock men who emigrate and carry with them a longing for news and a sharing of stories of 'golden years'. He reinforced the convictions that so many of the Past have that the ethos and traditions of the College were forged in those indefinable but memorable relationships between the Vincentians and 'the boys'. The omnipresence of people who really cared about who were and what you wished to do in life was critical to those relationship. On leaving Knock, Michael went into the hotel business beginning in the Savoy and Berkeley Hotels in London. He went on to work in hotels in Switzerland, Ireland, Germany and France. In 1960 he returned to England and, apart from serving in the Merchant Navy for two years, he continued his hotel experience but also began to study Law. His vocation to Law began accidentally. Disenchanted with the catering business he was anxious for a change. One day, purely by chance he was walking past Lincoln's Inn. He went in to inquire if he might be accepted as a law student. His Irish Matriculation was accepted for purposes of entry and thus began his legal career.. He was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1967 and practiced Law including 6 years as Prosecutor at Director of Public Prosecutions Office, London. In 1975 Micheal moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Since moving to Edmonton he has practiced law as a Barrister both as Prosecutor and, latterly, as a Defence Counsel. He, also served as a lustice of the Peace for four years.

In 1967 he met Peggy who was a librarian at Kensington Library. They were married on 3rd October 1964. In 1975 they emigrated to Edmonton, Canada with their two children Simon and Catherine whom they had adopted through the Crusade of Rescue in London. Peggy died in 2002. Listening to Michael speak about her was a most moving testimony of their happiness together. His love for his children and their spouses shines through the story of his life and helps to alleviate some of the loss caused by Peggy's death.


Walter with the exception of 12 years, has lived in Calgary, Alberta, Canada since 1957. Walter is counsel to the law firm Bennett lones LLP, having been a partner until December 31, 2002. The law firm in the Calgary office comprises 173 lawyers. Walter specialized in corporate law, including securities, public and private companies and banking and was the head of the firm's corporate department for approximately 12 years. He was the lead lawyer in a number of significant transactions including the privatization of Alberta Government Telephones and Canadian Airlines, both of which were among the largest transactions in Canada at that time. In addition, Walter has been or is a director of a number of public companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and/or the New York Stock Exchange. He is a past president of the Calgary Bar Association and a former school trustee for the City of Calgary and has just completed a six year term as a commissioner of the Alberta Securities Commission.

During his years in Castleknock Walter excelled at cricket, athletics, tennis, table-tennis and rugby. He captained the Senior Team in his final year. Walter has an artificial right knee, as a result of an injury incurred in the 1950 Leinster Schools Senior Rugby final against Blackrock. It caused his retirement shortly after half-time and in the days when substitutes were not allowed, set 'Rock an easier task. It is good to report that he has, in his later years, taken up golf and regards himself as an enjoyable but bad golfer. Walter and his wife, Shirley (formerly O'Kane) from Drogheda have four children, three of whom live in Calgary and one of whom lives in Bermuda.