Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Pat Purcell Papers

Carlow Man Drowned


By kind permission of Michael Purcell

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 28th 1902.

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.

Two 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.

Pg 88 Pg 89 Pg 90
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