He lived, largely hidden, in the woods of Glenmalure Hills for over 20 years, and tonight, nudist and herbalist Peter O’Neill will be celebrated in an RTE documentary.
Originally from England, little is known about Peter, with even his name under question – given that no friends or relatives have ever been found.
So remote was Peter’s hideaway that it was some months after his passing that the body of the 71-year-old was found. A local hotel had become concerned when O’Neill had failed to collect his post.
Now retired, one-time local garda Richard Galvin said of the man, “I used to visit him there. He was some kind of loner or hermit.”
O’Neill had built himself a home from the remains of a ruin deep in the forest, and spent most of his time reading through his hundreds of books and letters, all the while making notes. For neighbours Maura and Michael Heffernan – who put most of O’Neill’s belongings in their shed, should a relative one day be found – it was as though this loner was on a search. Said local priest, Fr Oliver Crotty, “He had questions of a religious nature that he was trying to suss out.”
It was on May 8th, 2015, that the body of Peter O’Neill was found, by local garda Shane Barker. His last diary entry had been January 18th.
A funeral was organised by local Church of Ireland and Catholic priests, and was attended by many locals, who helped carry and lower the coffin.
According to Fr Crotty, there are more people living just like Peter had around Ireland. “There are 37 other such men living in forests around Ireland,” he explained. “Maybe they are people we should be looking at and listening to, maybe they’re telling us something very profound about the need to be in touch with our world and our environment.
“To that extent, I’d look up to him and say, ‘Well done’.”
Would You Believe?: The Secret of the Universe is on RTE1 Sunday, Dec 11th at 10.15pm