The following was intended for
publication in an article by Pat Purcell on Rowan
McCombe (Carloviana 1964) however it was never published
for reasons that Pat explains at end of this report.
Extract from The Carlow Sentinel June
A Carlow Man Drowned. - Gallant Attempt to
Rescue A Priest.
We have received from Mr Faircloth - a
well known and highly respected Carlow man, for many
years resident in Denver, USA, a copy of the Denver Post
of the 5th June from which we take the melancholy
details. Mr McCombe whose heroism cost him his life was
son of the late Rowan McCombe of Carlow-Graigue, Manager
of the Barrow Navigation Company, well known in local
circles as poet and politician. One of his poems
included in a published volume, entitled "Doctor don't
be hard on Johnny" was addressed to Rev. Dr. Pownall who
was principal of a school in Carlow at that time, the
Johnny referred to being the hero of this story who
sacrificed his life in the vain endeavour to save that
of his friend.
Silverton, Colorado, June 5th 1902.
of the best known men in San Juan country met a sudden
and tragic death by drowning in the Las Animas river
about 5oc last evening. They were Rev. Cornelius
O'Rourke, pastor of the Catholic church here and John L.
McCombe, a mine operator. The bodies of both men were
recovered last night and brought to Silverton and turned
over to the coroner , who will hold an inquest.
Father O'Rourke, Mr McCombe and Michael
Coughlin started on horseback from Salt Lake City
yesterday afternoon going via Eureka, and all looked
forward to the ride in the bright sunshine and cooling
breezes with considerable pleasure. They bade their Salt
Lake City friends a cheery goodbye and in turn were
wished a pleasant and safe trip.
Nothing occurred to mar the ride until a
point just the other side of the Tom Moore bridge,
located several miles from Silverton was reached. Here
something went wrong with the saddle on the horse ridden
by Father O'Rourke and the priest dismounted to fix it.
The roadway at this point was very
narrow, a mountain on one side and the swiftly running
river many feet down the embankment on the other. While
Father O'Rourke was tightening up the saddle girths the
horse suddenly shied. The priest who was standing on the
side nearest the river lost his balance and plunged down
the steep incline into the river. As the priest struck
the water he gave a cry for help.
Mr McCombe sprang down the embankment
and plunged into the river after Fr. O'Rourke, who was
carried away by the swift current. But it was to no
avail. The surging waters pulled McCombe down from
trying to save his friend he tried in vain to save his
own life. He was carried down the stream some distance
and then sucked under by the treacherous waters.
A searching party was hastily organised
and the bodies recovered. The tragic death of Father
O'Rourke has cast a deep gloom over the entire San Juan
country for no man was greater loved by all classes than
he. He numbered his friends by the thousands and
Catholic and Protestant revered him for the man he was.
Father O'Rourke was known as "the miners' priest" and
it was among this class of sturdy toilers that he was
most at home. He loved the delvers of the earth and they
in turn would sacrifice their lives for "Father Con" as
he was familiarly called if necessary.
Father O' Rourke was sometimes called
"the Sunshine Priest" because he was always happy and
generally succeeded in driving the dark clouds from the
lives of those with whom he came in contact. He was a
whole-souled and genial and accomplished great good for
his calling and humanity. He was ever ready to extend
his hand to the toiler and appeals to him for help for
those in distress never fell on deaf ears. Father
O'Rourke entered the lives and homes of the Colorado
miners as few priests or preachers have ever done. He
knew them intimately and his sympathy was ever for the
man who earned his bread by the sweat of his brow and by
taking his life in his hands as miners do daily.
His facility for making friends was
phenomenal and he never forgot a name or a face. Even to
the children of the district he was known and beloved
and many a youngster not yet in his teens would
respectfully doff his cap upon meeting him.
(Note by Pat Purcell, dated March
1963, the John L. McCombe named in this article was
reared in Carlow by Rowan McCombe but was not his son ,
he was the son of his brother Robert).
The above is a true and
accurate transcript of the original document.
Transcribed by Jean Casey, November 2009.
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