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James Dowd was the son of John Dowd of Leitrim. He was born in Ireland c.a. 1904, and came to England at the age of 18. He wasn't satisfied with the prospects for work on Tyneside and emigrated to New York where he joined the Fire Service. The photograph above was taken in New York circa 1930 - the photographer was M. Barenblatt of 262 Willis Avenue.
While in England James had met a young girl, Margaret Shanley, whose father came from Arigna in Leitrim, and he persuaded her to join him in New York, where she stayed with his relatives. They were intending to be married, then a tragedy happened. While attending a fire in a cinema James was attempting to force open a door or grille when the screwdriver he was using slipped from his grasp and penetrated his right eye. It had to be removed, and after a short while he lost the sight of his other eye. He was 26 years old. He obviously had to leave the fire service and returned to Ireland with Margaret. They were married in the church at Drumkeeran, Co. Leitrim on 29th November 1933.
Margaret herself met with bad luck in New York, suffering a broken femur in a car crash, and carried a plate in her leg for the rest of her life.
They returned to Tyneside and in 1944 formed the Tara Ceilidh Club which met in the Royal Arcade. This gave lessons in Irish dancing and generally involved itself in organising Irish cultural events. Both Jimmy and Margaret were members of the Anti-Partition League, and one of the highlights of their life was when Eamonn DeValera was invited to Newcastle in February 1949. He spoke at the City Hall on 13th February, and took part in a debate on the subject of partition in King's College on 14th February. The photo below shows "Dev" (seated - third from left) with the Mayor of Newcastle and other civic dignitaries; James O'Dowd is in dark glasses on the extreme left of the picture.
The adoption of the surname O'Dowd was the source of some amusement (which sometimes led to controversy) within the Laydon-Dowd extended family on Tyneside. It would appear that Hugh (James's uncle) was the first to do so, but quite when James himself followed suit is unknown. It is interesting to note that those family members who emigrated to the US do not seem to have changed their name in this way.
James, or "Blind Jimmy" as he became known, was regarded with respect among the Irish Community with Tyneside for his fortitude in the face of adversity. He and Margaret lived at Dinsdale Road in Sandyford, Newcastle until 1976 when they moved to Tintern Crescent in Heaton. Jimmy died on 2nd December 1981, and his cousin Fr. Michael Clifford gave the following address at his funeral:
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ:
We have come here today to offer up this Mass for the repose of the soul of James O’Dowd. We have come to thank God for his life here on earth. It was the simple life of a devout Catholic - a life full of joy and beauty, because it was a life of deep faith - a life lived in the love and service of Our Blessed Lord.
He died peacefully last Saturday on the eve of his 48th wedding anniversary. We are confident that Our Lord will give him a great welcome an reward him handsomely for his love and devotion to Him.
People often say: "I fear death because I fear the Unknown". But that is not the case for us Christians. There is only an Unknown for those who do not know Our Blessed Lord. We, on the other hand, know Him and love Him and firmly believe that He will be there to welcome us and to present us to His heavenly Father and lead us into the light, happiness and peace of His presence.
Christ has said:
"I am the Way, the Truth and the Life".
"I am the Bread of life".
"I am the Resurrection and the Life".
"He that believes in Me, although he be dead shall live".
"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day".
We believe that James O’Dowd has gone to our true home which is in heaven and that he has not appeared before Our Lord with his hands empty. He brings with him the merits and graces won by a life-time of prayer - his daily Mass and Communion and his nightly rosary - graces won by the cross of his blindness nobly borne which came to him when he was only 26 years old - over fifty years he has carried that cross patiently and cheerfully. Who can tell how much good he has done for souls by his quiet, dignified life? He was a great example to us all.
He was kind and courteous and very hospitable. He was greatly blessed in his wife Margaret who was his eyes, and she gave him all the security he wanted; and by her goodness and kindness, her love and devotion, made james a very happy man. She has had and will always have, our deepest respect and affection. He was always delighted to entertain his relatives and friends, and your presence today is a wonderful tribute to him. He was deeply devoted to his nieces and nephews and their children and got great pleasure from their company. He dearly loved the land of his birth and Irish music and dancing and poetry were his constant joy. He and Margaret founded in 1944 the Tara Ceilidhe Club (at the Royal Arcade in town) which was so successful and brought a lot of pleasure to so many. He will long be remembered by the Irish community on Tyneside.
I’m sure we will remember him in our Masses and prayers that he may attain the light, happiness, and peace of heaven for which he longed.
Eternal rest, give unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.
In conclusion, on behalf of Margaret, I would like to thank you all, both relatives and friends, for coming to this Mass; for your prayers and Masses and all the expressions of sympathy she has received. I thank, too, the priests who have come to take part in the concelebration and the Sisters of the fifferent religious orders. Finally, Margaret wishes to thank the clergy of the parish (Fr. Harriot and Fr. Bolger) for their unfailing kindness to herself and James.
May God bless you all.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son,and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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