Richard T. Cooke’s Eulogy at the Funeral of Dr. Sean Pettit

Richard T. Cooke (right) with Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba
Richard T. Cooke (right) with Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba

Richard T. Cooke, President/Chairperson, Cork Adult Education Council

delivered a personal eulogy at Dr. Sean Pettit’s

Requiem Mass at 11.00am Monday, November 28th 2016

St. Patrick’s Church, Lower Glanmire Road. Ireland

A tribute to my good dear friend, Dr. Sean Pettit – The Romantic Historian

By Richard T. Cooke

Charming, theatrical, enthusiastic, passionate and generous are some of the words that spring to mind when I think of my dear friend Dr. Sean Pettit who went to his eternal rest on Wednesday, November 23rd 2016. I took a deep breath when I read of his passing in an email I received from his dear loving wife Aruba and I picked up the phone to ring her immediately to express my profound condolences. I felt so sad. Sean was one beautiful sweet man and I was so lucky to have him as a friend for over 30 years.

Dr. Pettit & Aruba in younger days
Dr. Pettit & Aruba in younger days

My first sighting of him was way back in 1984. I was working in the Cork Archives Institute and attending UCC. Our tutor Mr. O’Brien told us about an upcoming lecture in the Boole Library by a Dr. Sean Pettit which might be of interest to us as the topic was on history. That following night off I went with a couple of friends to the lecture. We took our place in the lecture hall and chatted amongst ourselves while we waited for Dr. Pettit to arrive. And boy, did he arrive. His stage presence was unlike anything I had ever seen before and as he began his lecture, I said to myself, something magic is going to happen here and indeed it did. He spoke about Cork’s wonderful rich colourful heritage, tradition and culture with gusto. I was in awe, spellbound with his charismatic presentation. The blood flowing through his veins I imagined was not unlike the water flowing through the river Lee. Passionately he delivered his historical pearls of Cork’s history and eagerly I soaked up his knowledge. It wasn’t a lecture in fact but a theatrical performance that captured all my senses. His passion was infectious and on that night, I wanted nothing more than to be like him. He was like a rock star of history. He made Cork’s past come alive, he made it exciting. He was like Moses preaching the gospel of Cork in the most romantic of ways that would undoubtedly cause any one from any part of the world to fall head over heels in love with our beautiful smiling thriving city of Cork.

Over the years we became firm friends. We often met and had a good auld chat on one of Cork’s historic streets or landmarks like the time we met in the English Market and we shared the history of that historic place with throngs of people around us by the fountain which was decorated with Turkeys, geese and chickens in was Christmas time.  And we used to lunch together in the Imperial Hotel on the South Mall, that grand elegant 19th century building which Sean loved so much and our conversation would always be on some aspect of the history of Cork.

walking tour
Dr. Sean Pettit leading a walking tour of Cork city

I was intending to meet up with Sean on Thursday, November 24th last for another lively chit-chat but this will now have to wait until we meet again on the other side and no doubt we will. People loved him so much just like me. He was so generous and giving with his knowledge like my good dear great friends and mentors, Wally McGrath of the Evening Echo and CJF McCarthy of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

Dr. Sean Pettit will be remembered for his overwhelming generosity and kindness and no doubt I am only one of his many friends, colleagues and fans.

As I was walking the streets of Cork after hearing the very sad news I could feel his presence and I’m sure that his loving spirit is now happily strolling the streets of our proud city sporting his characteristic warm furry Russian hat and puffing his pipe – he was a gentleman of gentlemen.

He had that elegant rich old fashioned romantic way about him and this could be witnessed every time he was in the presence of his dear and loving wife Aruba – I can still see them linking hands – they were sweethearts. And you can see for yourself this romantic old fashioned chemistry in the film on YouTube titled: Dr Sean Pettit & Aruba Coghlan Honoured that documents the Lifetime Award that Aruba received in 2015 for her wonderful work in the field of ballet and the Historian of the Year Award that Sean received for his lifetime work in the field of history from the then Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Chris O’Leary and from the Committee of Celebrating Cork Past in the City Hall, Monday, September 28th 2015.

With friends in the Shandon area

Sean loved speaking about Cork. He was loud and proud of his native city and its wonderful heritage and especially its people. His last two public lectures were in St Peter’s Cork, North Main Street, for the Cork Adult Education Council Lunchtime Lecture Series on Monday, April 4th 2016 and at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Friday, July 29th 2016. As always they were thronged with his many fans.

And finally, an 18th century writer once wrote: the greatest gift that God could give to a human being is a friend. Goodbye my dear friend until we meet again…

I would be delighted if you would join me now in giving Sean a round of applause in celebration of his wonderful life. Thank You

A tribute to the late Dr. Séan Pettit – “The Final Curtain”

Sean Pettit and Richard T. Cooke
Dr. Sean Pettit (left) with Richard T. Cooke at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The Maldron Hotel was packed, last seats already taken…..standing room only now……still 20 minutes to go. Mild apprehension among even experienced members of the Mother Jones Committee……….the growing crowd…..aged from 8 to 80….a sense of anticipation…….crackling expectation……electricity in the air.

He arrived from the rear of the room, advancing slowly through a flash of cameras and mobile phones, hugs and handshakes and a standing ovation. Reaching the front of the room he raised his arms in the air with a broad smile. The “Master” had appeared….resplendent and immaculate in cream jacket…….he was ready to perform!

Introduced by his old friend Richard T Cooke…….he commanded the packed room and hall with professional ease, just as 40 years earlier in his trademark swishing black gown he commanded the packed lecture halls of the West Wing of his beloved University College Cork…….bringing history to life for young students!

Dr. Pettit with some of the members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee
Dr. Pettit with some of the members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

On Friday afternoon 29th July 2016, Dr Sean Pettit was at home on Cork’s Northside in the North Infirmary speaking of Cork in the 1800s and portraying the Cork city experienced by a young Mary Harris. He seamlessly worked through his amazing collection of slides, gently and modestly describing the reality of life for the wealthy and the degrading poverty of the poor on the streets of Cork. From the sedate wonder of the then beautiful Mardyke to the resilient Shawlies of the Quays we moved back in time with a genial Sean to ramble around and imagine the city of our ancestors.

In his classic book This City of Cork,published in 1977, Dr Pettit wrote in a chapter entitled “The Sick, The Poor and the Beggars” with passion and scarcely disguised anger about the human distress and the plight of subsistence living of ordinary people in Cork in the 1830s. His empathy for the poor always shone through his presentations. He spoke of the mansions on the hill and the carriages of the rich and famous but he never forgot to speak also of the social injustice experienced in the laneways and alleys of Cork.

His lecture at the Mother Jones summer school 2016 was a remarkable performance, a public historian graciously speaking of the heritage of the people of Cork, of his love for his native City and generously passing on his knowledge, experience and appreciation to those so lucky to be present on that glorious day and as he had done also for many thousands more over the past 50 years.

Crowd photo
Shot of the crowd who packed in for Dr. Sean Pettit’s talk.

We instinctively understood then that we were witnessing a rare performance from “The Master” but could not know that Sean was taking his final curtain after his finest hour.

Dr Sean Pettit passed away on Wednesday 23rd November 2016. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to express our condolences to his beloved wife Aruba to whom he dedicated all his books.

Dr. Sean Pettit to speak at Mother Jones Summer School 2016

The distinguished historian Dr Sean Pettit to speak at 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School.

Dr Sean Pettit (left)
Dr. Sean Pettit (left) with Richard T. Cooke of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival committee

The 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school is privileged to announce that Dr Sean Pettit will speak about Cork in the 1800s on Friday afternoon 29th July at this year’s event.

Ever wonder what the 1840s Cork city and the Shandon of Mary Harris looked like, felt like, and sounded like?

Sean has enabled generations of Corkonians and visitors alike to move back in time to the city streets of past years, to experience the people who lived in the fine houses ordark alleyways of the city and to immerse themselves in the city of yesteryear.

Originally a secondary school teacher, Dr Pettit later lectured at UCC for over 30 years, where thousands of students absorbed the history and stories of the Rebel City from the oft timescaptivating accounts and hisengaging performances. One did not need to keep notes at his lectures, his enthrallingdescriptions of places and people great and smallaroused our curiosity and we later walked in the footsteps of Sean to explore and experience those streets for ourselves.

Following a series of weekly talks on “Corkabout” entitled “Cork in the Nineteenth Century” and a series of six lectures for the Adult Education Department of UCC, Sean wrote his outstanding work, “This City of Cork 1700 – 1900”. Published by Studio Publications in 1977 and dedicated to his wife Aruba Coghlan, it represents a standard reference work on the history and people of Cork in that period. Long out of print, a reprint is overdue to bring its contents and love of Cork city to a wider audience.

This City of Cork!

The opening chapter of this book… “A Thousand Years of Living ByThe Lee” begins…………

“A city is there to be appreciated and to be experienced. The best way to do so is to go out and about on the streets to see with one’sown eyes the shape, the colour and the texture of its houses, churches, public buildings, bridges, shops, railway stations, quays and places of industry”

A young Mary Harris was born also on those streets in 1837, walked and played on those streets in the 1840s and probably witnessed the events, death and hunger which formulated the wellsprings of childhood experience from which emerged her later passion and commitment of her many campaigns against labour injustice in America.

Sean has also published “The Streets of Cork”, “Cork City Tourist Trail”, “My City by the Lee” and several other books. He has won numerous awards and has conducted walking tours of the City for many thousands.

Dr Pettit at Cork City Hall
Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba Coughlan with Lord Mayor Chris O’Leary at  Cork City Hall

Dr Pettit will speak on Friday afternoon 29th July at 2.30 at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.