Ireland’s longest serving draper, Josie O’Hanlon, aged 98, the proprietor of J. O’Hanlon’s - a name synonymous with Irvinestown - passed away unexpectedly last Sunday morning, causing much shock and sadness in the community.

The well-known and highly regarded figure, late of Pound Street, Irvinestown, had remained active and continued to work until shortly before his death, which occurred peacefully on July 9, 2017, in the South West Acute Hospital, Enniskillen, surrounded by his family.

His passing came eight weeks after the death of his brother Tommy O’Hanlon, who had been a postman. Josie stood up at his brother’s funeral and quoted a verse in Latin which he had learned as an altar boy, and received a round of applause from the congregation.

Having celebrated his 98th birthday on June 19, 2017, Josie had enjoyed good health until suffering from his short illness. According to his family he had never retired and continued working until the end.

Born and bred in Pound Street, Irvinestown, he was a son of Joseph and Catherine O’Hanlon; Josie’s father was in the drapery business and according to Josie’s son Dermot he took Josie out of school at the age of 15 to join him in the business. Josie’s father died in 1952 and Josie, who was third in a family of 14 (seven sons and seven daughters), continued the long established concern, which is situated next to his family home.

He was in J. O’Hanlon’s general draper’s all his life, having served as a draper for 83 years. A talented figure, his son Dermot said that he sat down at his sewing machine, did repairs and took up trousers. “He was famous for his Singer sewing machine,” acknowledged Dermot, who mentioned that it was being brought to his funeral on Tuesday, as one of the symbols of his working life.

Josie married Mary Gilleece from Kinawley in 1961 and they had a family of four: Catherine, Dermot, Joe and Barry.

Around 20 years ago, Josie was joined in the draper’s by his son Joe, who learned the business from him. 

Hence the shop, which is well-known both near and far, has spanned three generations - having been started in the early 1920s by Josie’s father Joseph, whom Josie joined around the mid 1930s. 

In his youth, Josie played football with Irvinestown St. Molaise Club. He was the last surviving member of the team that won the 1940 Fermanagh Junior Football Championship. The local club formed a guard of honour as his remains were brought into the church, which the family very much appreciated.

Josie is remembered for his “very charitable nature” and among his interests had been St. Vincent de Paul; he was a member of the organisation for 70 years. (Medals and a certificate featured at the church.)

A very active member of the Church, he loved quoting from Latin verses, learned as an altar boy. He also enjoyed telling stories about the parish down through the generations. 

“He had a very vivid, clear memory,” said Dermot, who also described his father as an outgoing figure. “He always had a joke for everyone, young and old,” he said. 

Dermot mentioned that his father loved being part of the town, and part of the community, where people can’t believe he has passed away.

He was “a very contented man,” he said, adding that he was “very happy with life.” He also said that his father was “very obliging” and he would have opened the shop at any time of night if people wanted it.

Josie’s widely attended funeral mass, reflecting the huge respect felt for him, took place at the Sacred Heart Church, Irvinestown on Tuesday afternoon. It was concelebrated by Canon Michael McGourty P.P., and also by Fr. Niall Green and Fr. Artie McCann, family friends.

Family members also took part in the service. Burial was in the adjoining cemetery. The funeral tea was held in the Bawnacre Centre.

Josie is survived by his wife Mary; their four children, Catherine; Dermot (Mary); Joe (Michelle); and Barry (Laura). He leaves six grandchildren Fergal, Roisin, Erin, Sean, Conor and Amy; his two brothers Eddie and Colm, and five sisters Lily, Mona, Vera, Patsy and Rita, and the wider family circle. 

Josie’s family are very appreciative of the support received following Josie’s death; they have been “overwhelmed” by the many callers who visited the house over the wake, and attended the removal on Monday evening, followed by Tuesday’s funeral.

The funeral arrangements were by Funeral Director Jim Barnett.